A Major Improvement

The Children of Hurin (2007)

I picked up The Silmarillion after reading The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings on a suggestion from a fellow reader that I was sweet on during my senior year in high school. The other works of J.R.R. Tolkien that I read had been a wonder to experience, but I wanted desperately to know more of the Elves, and to dig into the rich history of Middle Earth that was hinted at in them. The Silmarillion satisfied that curiosity, but left me wondering what the notes that Christopher Tolkien had used to create the compilation that was The Silmarillion had looked like before he had tried to arrange them into a cohesive narrative after his father’s death in 1973. I can only imagine the size of that herculean task, given the scattering of notes that every writer generates over the course of their lifetime.

Many people have complained over the years about the heavy slog that The Silmarillion was for them to read. That was not my experience of the book, but I could tell that The Silmarillion was not the direct works of J.R.R. Tolkien, or rather that the work it represented was not as refined as his later published works had been. I don’t place blame on Christopher Tolkien for this lack of refinement. He had nothing but notes to work from, a loose framework of tales written over several decades, as J.R.R. Tolkien pursued his passion for telling fantastic tales of Elves, Dwarves and Men. Tales that publishers of the time refused to publish for fear that the works simply would not sell.

I wonder what would have happened to his best-loved works, had his earlier passions not be frustrated by recalcitrant publishers? Would we even have the stories of Hobbits, the creation of Hobbiton as a location in Middle Earth, if Tolkien had been satisfied to see his earlier labors rewarded? We’ll never know.

I have wanted to get my hands on the twelve volume set of The History of Middle Earth, what was promised to be the definitive collection of the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, published serially from the years 1983 to 1996, since I first heard rumor of its existence. I was desperately trying to stay in the business of architecture by that time, trying to raise two children to boot, and I had little time for reading for fun during those years. But I kept my eye out on the rare occasion that I made it into libraries and bookstores, hoping that I might run across them so that I could at least touch them on a shelf somewhere. I never have had the chance to find all twelve of them at a bargain price, and when I looked on Amazon.com today there are several sets of books listed that promise to be the definitive collection of the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, some of them even calling themselves The History of Middle Earth, but aren’t the originally published twelve separate books. All of them requiring more cash than I’m willing to spend just to set them on a shelf in my library.

The back and forth eye motion of reading text on a printed page has gotten difficult, sometimes even producing minor bouts of vertigo when I have tried to push myself to read for any lengthy amount of time. I doubt that I could ever bring myself to go through all twelve volumes of the set all on my own, if I had to read them directly. The last few times I tried reading anything on the printed page I became fatigued so quickly that I had to resort to buying the works on audiobook just to be able to finish them.

When The Wife and I ran across the Children of Hurin on Audible recently, read by Christopher Lee, we both agreed that we needed to get it. She loves Christopher Lee having grown up watching him play Dracula in all the old Hammer films. His narration of Children of Hurin was beautiful to listen to. I couldn’t have asked for a better voice to bring J.R.R. Tolkien’s words to life. The story itself is a major improvement on the rough draft of the story that is preserved in The Silmarillion. There is more depth to the work in this form, the story of Turin Turambar and his sister made all the more tragic by the voice of Christopher Lee. It is a credit to both of the authors who have worked on these stories over the course of their lives that this version flows so well from beginning to end. I can’t recommend it highly enough to any Tolkien fan.

TÚRIN TURAMBAR DAGNIR GLAURUNGA

Virgin Cheerleaders in Chains

Virgin Cheerleaders in Chains (2019)

(No, it’s not that kind of movie)

Jacob Anders ReviewsVirgin Cheerleaders in Chains – Nov 13, 2019

This is how you do a movie review. The film he is reviewing is the one that I felt I had to write a Movie Rating for Dummies post for just to help the entertainment challenged understand that if you sat through the entire movie, it’s probably at least a three star experience. This guy gets it, and he understands how to mix praise with criticism.

Virgin Cheerleaders in Chains is better than three stars, as Jacob Anders does a much better job of explaining than I can. He’s nicer to the movie than I was, and he doesn’t have to sleep next to the producer of the film knowing she could kill him in his sleep if he trashes her movie.

Which I wouldn’t do to this movie anyway because it is hands down the best made movie she’s worked on. The credit goes to the writer, the director, the cast and crew, all of whom would never have found each other without the producer, the woman I sleep next to. So she gets credit too, even if she isn’t one of the named credits in the movie. The editing job is superb, the acting is excellent, the script won awards. It’s a great movie. Go see it.

I’m simply not a person who watches horror films and enjoys them. I’m still haunted by The Ring after watching it more than a decade ago. I laughed at and was traumatized by Scream when it came out. Halloween still gives me goosebumps, and I’m a certified John Carpenter fan. Don’t ask my opinion on horror films if you want more out of me than it’s not my kind of movie. I’m more at home with dry, intense dramas than I am with action and horror.

This movie scared me, too. So if you like scary movies, go see it. You’ll enjoy it.

RAnt(hony)-ings

If It Didn’t Exist, We’d Have To Create It Anyway

Yesterday (2019)

Picture the Emerald city as seen in the 1939 movie The Wizard of Oz. Imagine that you had lived there all your life. Born there, raised there. It was what was normal for you. Then one day you wake up and you live in Kansas, the dull, drab black and white existence from the same film. No one has ever seen or heard of the beauty of the Emerald city. No one knows what the hell you mean when you say Emerald city to them.

Wouldn’t you try to create a version of the Emerald city? Just so that the beauty that you remember could be shared by everyone you know? So that they would know what you mean when you say the words Emerald city.

That is the essence of Yesterday. The story of a man who wakes up in a world in which the greatest influences of our past no longer existed. It is a movie with soul. A movie that makes you want to shout to the rafters about the beauty and inspiration that was the Beatles, and quite a few other things as well. Watching Yesterday was one of those rare instances when the movie that I’m watching is better than the movie I expected to watch when I queued it up. Give this movie a chance and it will surprise you.

Love is all you need.

Ratings Systems

For my own sanity, I feel that I need to say something about ratings systems and how to rate entertainment fairly. Specifically, rating movies fairly, although the descriptions for the basis of giving a particular rating can be broadly applied to more than just movies. But it’s movies that I’m going to be talking about here.

Full disclosure. The Wife’s latest film project has just been released. It is the fourteenth film she’s worked on, the second that she has produced. The title of the film is Virgin Cheerleaders in Chains. No, it is not that kind of movie. It is a horror-comedy with strong female leads, a reasonably well-known director and a reasonably well-known leading actor. I give the film a solid eight out of ten stars on IMDB, four out of five everywhere else.

Why did I give it this rating? There is a logic to it that most people should recognize. First off, I liked the film. When I got to the end of it, I didn’t feel like I had wasted my time, and I didn’t feel like I had been sitting there for too long. If you look on Netflix you can see that logic reflected in their star rating system. For those who don’t have a Netflix account, I’ll go through the generic descriptions using my own language.

One star – I hated it. A one star rating goes on films that you can not even sit through, or that if you do sit through it is simply to grasp the full extent of the filmmakers crimes so that you can testify to them later. If your eyes aren’t bleeding after fifteen minutes of viewing, the movie is probably not a one star experience.

Two stars – I didn’t like it. I made it to the end and for whatever reason, the movie didn’t make me feel the way I expected to feel at the end. This is not to be confused with feeling sad when the film is a sad film (See Schindler’s List) paranoid when the film induces paranoia (see the Matrix) Or angry when the film wants you to be angry (pick any work by Michael Moore) If you need happy endings, stick to solid hollywood releases. They are the movie creators that will feel compelled to leave you with a happy ending.

Three stars – It was OK. There was no particular reason why I couldn’t watch the entire film. It didn’t feel too long, it worked the way I think the creators wanted it to work, but it didn’t make me want to recommend it strongly. Most films are going to rate a solid three stars because most films are made by people who want the average moviegoer to feel like they weren’t wasting their time watching the movie.

Four stars – I liked it. The movie spoke to me in a way that was unique to the movie. A four star movie is one you can remember, and you can remember it fondly. A movie you might even watch again with a friend so that they can experience it too. This is perhaps the most unambiguous rating because most people know when they like something. Either they do or they don’t, there isn’t any uncertainty about it.

Five stars – I loved it. The film is near-perfect in execution. The soundtrack adds to the film, the cinematography is beyond reproach, the subject matter is something that people will relate to in later generations. You feel compelled to tell people to watch the movie, because it is just that good. For me, it’s hard to rate a movie five stars that I don’t feel was a singular experience. Few movies will rate five stars in my estimation. The vast majority of them simply do not measure up to that high standard, not even films made by a lifetime companion who could kill me in my sleep if she wanted to.

For a ten star system like IMDB, you double the star rating you would give it on a five star system, with some added granularity. Five instead of six stars because I really did feel like the movie lost me somewhere. Seven instead of eight stars because there were some technical flaws that I just can’t get past (see the duplicate droid scene in the original Star Wars) nine instead of ten stars because you don’t think the film will be that timeless, but it was damn good all the same.

You don’t, for example, give a film a one star rating and then offer a wishy-washy description of why the film was so bad that you felt like you had to gouge your eyes out rather than watch it. Either you hated it, and you can describe why, or you are trashing the film because the mood struck you and you went for it. Or you are simply an idiot that doesn’t understand what the correct star rating for the movie you just watched was. For those of you who made it to the end of this short guide, you can now be excused from the class of idiot that doesn’t understand what the star ratings mean. You are welcome.

I’m just sorry that I wasn’t in time to save the idiots that gave Virgin Cheerleaders in Chains a one star rating and then said I thought it was meh. Meh is three stars, moron.


I half-jokingly tell people that it’s kind of autobiographical. I had written a script called Creature From Blood Canal, which was an entry and official selection at the NoLa film festival screenplay competition, and that’s where I met [director Paulo Biscaia Filho]. Now Creature was a $100 million script, and I couldn’t get anyone to read it, and Hollywood wouldn’t read it, so basically that’s the same thing that Shane says in Virgin Cheerleaders.

Gary Ganaway in the Austin Chronicle the author of Virgin Cheerleaders in Chains.

The Rise of Skywalker?

The release date for the ninth and last of the originally slated sequels to the 1977 blockbuster, Star Wars, has been announced. When George Lucas was rewarded for his work on the original film, put together with a shoestring budget (judged by today’s movie budgets) he was floored by the fanbase that he had unwittingly created. People who willingly shelled out money for tickets to see the same film, over and over again for over a year, a feat that hadn’t been witnessed in movie history since Gone With the Wind had been released, a full human generation previously. When George Lucas saw how much money he could make in creating sequels to his original work, he abridged his stand-alone creation and let it be known that he had a lot more story to tell, if people were interested.

Star Wars: Teaser Trailer
Star Wars Original Trailer 1977

…and they were interested. The Empire Strikes Back was the second-best selling film after Star Wars when it released. Mr. Lucas went outside of the group that made the first film possible in order to realize the second film, but the movie made big bucks and set us on the course that we’ve been on, Star Wars and movie-sequel-wise, ever since.

Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back – Trailer

Return of the Jedi, the third film in the franchise, didn’t do as well as the previous two films, even though Mr. Lucas brought the film back home to have it made under his direct supervision. It was at this time that the nine film series narrative emerged. After the third film was in the can and George Lucas was looking for his next project. This was when Star Wars became Episode Four, and the plotting of the three prequels began.

Of course, we had to have the digital updates of the original trilogy first. And then we got the forgettable Star Wars episodes one, two and three. The kids liked them, so they sold well enough. There was a cartoon series about the Clone Wars and there were other spin-offs too numerous to mention. For someone who was let down watching the first Star Wars because the novelization was better than the film, it is hard to imagine waiting on the edge of your seat for anything Star Wars after those prequels dropped.

There were no theaters in Leoti, Kansas or Stinnett, Texas, the places where I was trapped during the year 1977, when Star Wars first hit movie theaters. The family had zero funds and bigger problems than my desire to see the epic adventure of our time, to deal with. So I didn’t get to see the movie when it released. I had to borrow a paperback copy of the novelization from the library in one of those two places. It was probably Stinnett. I didn’t get to see the original film until Empire Strikes Back was in release, and then I managed to catch the two films back to back in a new-fangled, dual screen twin cinema, constructed on the edge of my place of exile in 1980, Garden City, Kansas. One of the last things I did in that town before being shipped back to Texas.

My Star Wars diorama

It should be no surprise to long-time readers of the blog that I was much more impressed with the second Star Wars than I was with the first. An impression only strengthened after watching the third film, and then in witnessing the digital cheapening of the first trilogy in preparation for the release of the prequels.

I knew that what would come out after that would be questionable, and my impressions of all six of the later films is filtered through that doubt, the unwillingness to be suckered once again into paying money for an experience that couldn’t possibly be as good as what my own imagination could create in just reading the screen plays. Enjoying fantasy requires the suspension of disbelief, and I don’t have the willpower to suspend disbelief for something so clearly created just to manipulate my feelings with familiar characters. One. More. Time.

Is anyone waiting to see this film? Waiting like I waited to see Empire Strikes Back? Wanting to know what will happen next? Will Luke and Leia get together? They blew up the Death Star but the Emperor is still out there. Surely he has more versatile weapons at his disposal? We know all that stuff now, and none of the original characters have survived to be part of this last film.

Everyone has known the name of the ninth film for awhile now. The Rise of Skywalker. Does anyone care about these new characters? Just curious. I don’t. I’d like to care about Rey, but episode seven was just an orgasm of special effects loosely hung around the bare bones of the exact same story that George Lucas used in the original Star Wars. I watched episode eight specifically because Mark Hamill was going to be in it. It too was largely forgettable and I have mercifully forgotten it over the course of the last few years.

The best Star Wars film I’ve ever seen isn’t even one of the nine films. The best Star Wars film was Rogue One, with Solo coming in for a close second. Rogue One spins out a tale about how the plans that are mentioned in the original film’s crawler came to be in the hands of the rebel alliance. (h/t to screenrant) no, the film does not follow the previously established narratives for how the plans were stolen. None of them were in movies, so their relevance to the canon as established in film is really irrelevant, unless you are a die-hard fan.

Solo of course is all about Han Solo, my favorite character from the first and second films. I followed Harrison Ford from then to now, watching every film that I could afford to go see that has had him in it. Harrison Ford has been worth the effort to follow. His career has encompassed many movies that cannot be described accurately with words. You simply have to experience them to appreciate them. Movies like Blade Runner. The man is a master on screen, like few movie stars can be. The actor for the Solo movie did a passing good job of capturing Han Solo, the character, not Han Solo as portrayed by Harrison Ford. A subtle but important difference lost on people who aren’t movie buffs. He did well enough on screen following the master that I have to give him credit for trying, even if he fails to be Harrison Ford in presence on screen. No one but Harrison Ford could be Harrison Ford, in much the same way that no one but Morgan Freeman can be Morgan Freeman.

Harrison Ford has been worth the effort, even having to suffer through episode seven just to see the ignominious end of the character of Han Solo. As Harrison Ford said, when asked about the film “I got paid”. His were the only scenes in episode seven that were worth the price of admission. Episode nine has the abramanator once again in the director’s chair. Nothing the abramanator has done has ever been worth the price of admission when viewed in hindsight. I doubt that episode nine will be, either.

It is scheduled to be released on December 20th.

wait til it comes to cable

Mark Hamill

Amazon is IOI

Ready Player One (2011) book (2018) movie

So we’ve discovered the genesis of IOI then? Well, that’s good news.

What’s IOI? Innovative Online Industries. You know, the corporation from Ready Player One. If you haven’t read it, get the Audible version read by Wil Wheaton. It’s excellent. Don’t watch the movie of the same name; or more exactly, don’t watch the movie of the same name and expect to see the story from the book. The movie contains an entirely different narrative, with different characters and different FX sequences. The plot for the book would have been far less exciting on screen, and would have made for a much longer film. As far as video stimulation goes, the movie has excellent FX sequences, they just aren’t plot points that occur in the book. At all.

How do I know that Amazon is the corporation from Ready Player One? Well, for one thing, that cage looks like something that IOI would think was OK for workers to spend the majority of their lives in. For another, the links to the book and the movie both go to Amazon. I could point other places, but they’ll all be owned by Amazon eventually.

The Wife and I watched the film a few weeks back. I had never read the book at the time, she had read the book. We set the viewing up on purpose as a test to see who enjoyed the movie more. I’m pretty sure I won that contest. I had nothing to compare it to and so had no expectations for it to fulfill. She spent the first thirty minutes of the movie just trying to figure out where in the book the scriptwriter started the narrative at, because it certainly wasn’t anywhere in the first half of the book in spite of the fact that the first scenes have him living in the stacks, which is only in the first part of the book.

Having watched the movie I then fell asleep to Wil Wheaton’s voice in my ear for the next week or so, describing the world of Ready Player One. A world that is either a post-apocalyptic hellscape or a capitalist paradise depending on your point of view going into the book. In any case, as usual, the Hollywood version has cardboard cutouts for villains and the novel has pretty well-fleshed characters that you can believe exist somewhere. Neither tale is free of flaws, but both have their own moments of entertainment value.

Just understand that, when I envision the giant robot battle for capitalist dominance of the globe, I will now picture Jeff Bezos inside the Mechagodzilla.

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Let's Talk About Thermonuclear War, Children

The Day After (1983) Threads (1984) Koyaanisqatsi (1982) Powaqqatsi (1988)

The August 8, 2018 episode of On The Media included a little trip down memory lane for me.

On The Media, The Day After, Today, August 24, 2018

In 1983, 100 million Americans watched an ABC made-for-tv movie called The Day After, depicting the immediate fallout from a nuclear exchange between the US and the Soviet Union. Tensions between the two powers were high, with President Ronald Reagan calling the USSR an “evil empire” and building up the country’s nuclear stockpile. Just weeks before The Day After, NATO war exercises were nearly mistaken by Soviets for a real attack.

The movie wasn’t very good, but what it showed was so horrifying that it inspired a national conversation about US policy. Following the broadcast, Ted Koppel hosted a panel debate on deterrence and disarmament with prominent thinkers like Carl Sagan and Robert McNamara. Schools organized discussions for classes, ABC distributed a viewer’s guide, and psychologists warned that children under 12 shouldn’t even watch the movie. Marsha Gordon, professor of film studies at North Carolina State University, wrote about The Day After for the website The Conversation in January. In February, she and Brooke spoke about the public debate sparked by the movie, and what it might mean for a new generation to see a remake.

So who else remembers watching The Day After with the family? I remember watching it quite well, even if I can’t remember much of the film itself. I remember it was depressing. I remember the reassurance from Koppel afterwards that none of this was real. ABC was anxious to not start any panics, so they went to great lengths to make sure everyone knew this was a staged event.

Their care in making sure that audiences knew the show was a fake stands in stark contrast to today’s reality TV programs, where the very same people working in the media today fake everything in front of the camera and then proceed to tell the audience all of what they saw was real. Try explaining the false sense of surety that comes from seeing something happen to your pre-teen children. No, dear. It isn’t real. It’s Youtube. Nothing on Youtube is real. I know this because they still use cameras to focus your attention where they want it. Try explaining to a stormtrumper that the guy on The Apprentice wasn’t really Donald Trump. Let me know how that works out for you.

I also remember discussing The Day After with the Wife a few years later, and her insisting we watch Threads so that she could show me what a nuclear holocaust was really like. After watching Threads I had to admit that they soft-pedaled the effects of nuclear war in The Day After. I don’t blame them for soft-pedaling the harsh reality of nuclear winter. Watching Threads made me want to die.

Later that same year another friend insisted I watch Koyaanisqatsi and later Powaqqatsi in an attempt to show me that nuclear winter was a walk in the park compared to what some humans endure today. After watching those two films, I wondered if nuclear winter might actually be a blessing in disguise. So, you know. It’s all a matter of perspective.

Facebook.

#MAGA: Space Force. The Stupid Dreams of Stupid People

#MAGA=Misguided Appallingly Gullible Americans. This is a truism I’ve demonstrated more than once on this blog. The latest whiz-bang idea from the Orange Hate-Monkey (OHM) is this idiocy he calls the Space Force. Even his Vice President, a strangely quiet man lost in the shadow of the OHM’s vast vanity, has gotten in on the deal. Yesterday he was promoting the idea publicly. Today on the Texas Standard I hear that Maddog Mattis is gungho to get right on this stupid idea and make it a reality. That’s weird, because I thought even Maddog was against it. When a guy nicknamed Maddog doesn’t want to do your idea, you should know it’s probably even crazier and dumber than you might have thought.

Let me spell out just how dumb this idea is, from the perspective of decades of Science Fiction reading. The Earth sits at the bottom of a pretty deep gravity well. It’s face would be more visibly pockmarked than it is were it not for the wind and water action on the surface, not to mention the verdant tree growth, masquing the damage inflicted on the Earth from simple rocks that it has encountered in it’s annual journey around the sun. There are tons of rocks out there in space. Tons of them. Asteroids that could extinguish all life on this planet, in an instant. If we want to destroy any spot on the globe, that potential is out there right now. It is just waiting for anyone, anyone, to go out there, strap a rocket motor to the thing, push it this way or that and hey, presto! you’ve vaporized the target of your choice on the surface of the earth, and probably several hundred square kilometers around it.

The stupidity of believing we could continue our warlike ways into space was spelled out quite well in Robert A. Heinlein’s libertarian exploration novel, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. In that book we accompany the main character as he plots revolution against the Earth that sent him to a penal colony on the Moon. In order to avoid any major spoilers, I will simply observe that lobbing rocks at the Earth figures heavily in the plot of that novel. A Space Force is akin to the stupidity of placing the exiles from the Earth at the top of the Earth’s gravity well and daring them to get back at us. I expect a lunar penal colony will be the next great idea that the OHM will come up with, that’s how dumb the idea of a Space Force is. The world of Starship Troopers is waiting for us down that route through time, and I don’t recommend that future, either.

What life on this planet needs to understand is that we are at war with the rest of the universe, because the universe wants to kill us. Everywhere outside of the blanket of atmosphere that covers the Earth, death awaits. Gasping, freezing, boiling, death. We don’t need a Space Force because we don’t need to militarize space. Everything about going to space is a weapon. The rocket engines are weapons, the ships are weapons, that lug nut you forgot to tighten properly is a weapon after it comes loose, hurtling through space at thousands of miles an hour just waiting to intersect some habitat somewhere and destroy it. We cannot be at war with other people in space, because killing each other is far, far too easy to do out there. A moment of carelessness and everyone dies. Not exactly the place for the murderous or the stupid. Our only hope for the future is demilitarization, and it’s a pretty faint hope at that.

The demilitarization of space is the opposite of a Space Force. This is all aside from the fact that a Space Force is probably just another boondoggle like Reagan’s Star Wars. A boondoggle that will go nowhere and cost billions. It’s a stupid idea endorsed by stupid people. Or as Stonekettle Station put it, the money goes in the black hole and never comes out.

Splitting this so-called space force off from the Air Force (and presumably pulling the space-related components out of the other services as well), what does that give us that we don’t have now — and not just give us, but give us to such a degree that it justifies the cost and significantly increased complexity? What are the distinct requirements, the technology, skillsets, logistics, communications, training, facilities, targets, strategies, tactics, objectives, and missions that will define this space force? And how are those distinctly different from the current Air Force, distinct enough to warrant an entirely separate service with its enormous associated cost?

Why both an Air Force and a Space Force, instead of a single Aerospace Force?

Like everything else with Trump: what are the details?

Stonekettle Station on Facebook

Apparently I was being too subtle in the article above. Let me be more blunt. If you think that militarizing space is a good idea, if you think that the OHM isn’t proposing this project just to the line the pockets of his donors, then you are a member of group I refer to as stupid people. You are the kind of person that watches Iron Sky and masturbates to the images of swastikas on the screen.

Just FYI, if you watch Iron Sky and find you can’t laugh at it, then you have no sense of humor. You take yourself too seriously. You take your country too seriously (if you are an American) It is a European film made specifically to poke fun at Americans. Watch it again and again until you find the humor in it. That is my suggestion to anyone who finds they can’t laugh at themselves. If you undertake this effort maybe, just maybe, you will cease to be a member of the group I labeled stupid people.

We can’t realistically militarize space. Believing otherwise is to fall for storytelling tropes. If we don’t get past this self-hatred, we are done for as a species.

Featured image screencapped from empireonline.com

Thank You! to TWD for Ending my Cable Addiction

April 4th, 2016 – RottenTomatoes posed the question what did you think of The Walking Dead season six finale?

I am thoroughly ambivalent about The Last Day on Earth. The episode didn’t fit with the tenor of the rest of the season. It smacked of torture porn and marked the end of an unknown character, probably more than one character.  I’m waiting to see what happens next, for the first time in six seasons of loyal viewing, to decide if I’m still going to watch. More torture porn will make it not watching.

One of the other commenters observed to me I’m thinking that the season 5 finale marked a good point to end the series on a high note.

I’ve mentioned elsewhere that the Alien sequels ended with Aliens. That’s right, there are only two Alien movies in my headcanon. Hicks & Ripley settled down and adopted Newt after arriving safely back on Earth. End of story. Having already written my own endings for popular fiction in the past, albeit in my own head, writing my own end to The Walking Dead (TWD) will not be a problem. They all died. End of story. The season 5 finale was more positive, but also less definitive. I really was wondering what would happen next after watching that finale, a feeling I’m completely lacking this time around.


Someone resurrected that RottenTomatoes zombie thread (pun intended) with a spam comment today (January 29th, 2018) and while I was reading back through the comments I noticed that the one after mine took the time to break down how the camera perspective meant Glenn was the guy being beaten to death with a baseball bat.

Beaten to death, with a baseball bat. Let that sink in for a few, because it is a wakeup call. One of the most popular shows on television ends its sixth season with one of the most loved characters on TV of the time possibly being beaten to death with a barbed-wire wrapped baseball bat. We’ve come a long way from The Andy Griffith Show, just to mention another totally random show featuring a character that has a sheriff as its lead. Even if you compare TWD to Gunsmoke, the changes in America’s viewing culture is quite shocking.

It also bears noting that there is a certain amount of fatalism inherent in shows like TWD. All of the characters will die unremarked by anyone around them, because it is a story about the zombie apocalypse. No one will be left to record their last words, because there will be no one to recount the story. This is above and beyond the fatalism of TWD comic book fans who already know how your favorite characters die in their comic books. A literalism that they attempt to write onto the screen with every passing episode.

I can safely say, with not a hint of spoilers, the death wasn’t Glenn’s as the other commenter described. Not that Glenn didn’t die anyway. As I said, no spoilers. I binge-watched season seven on Netflix this past month, prepping to binge watch the final season this fall. Seventh season’s viewing numbers were so low that AMC decided to end the show on a high note and wrap it up with a second season of Negan vs. Rick.

I should thank TWD for making me finally cut the cable. Within a month of watching the season seven opener, the Wife and I decided we didn’t need to spend money on cable television that we weren’t going to be watching anyway. With BBC America moved to the even more expensive tier of cable subscription than the one we had, there was nothing on the TV we were overpaying for that we wanted to watch. Aside from which, it was less jarring to watch TWD on Netflix as a binge event, and not paying for cable TV has saved me a couple of thousand dollars by now.

On the subject of the eighth and final season of TWD, I’m having a real hard time believing Negan isn’t dead yet, much less figuring out why anyone would follow the son of a bitch anywhere. My experience over the last two years of TWD has shown me that you can’t take comic books and make videos out of the stories and characters directly (as if the DC movies are not proof of this already) it is better to let people who understand the medium of television write for that medium themselves.


The promo for the mid-season opener popped up on my feed yesterday asking,

2 weeks left. Is the Kingdom ready for one last stand? #TWD

TWD on G+

Of course, the pro and con trolls then proceeded to make hay over their various opinions on the subject of TWD in general and not the final half of the final season in particular, including one particular troll who threatened bodily harm to the naysayers. I haven’t watched the first half yet, not being willing to spend actual cash on seeing it before the season is finished. But opinions? I have a few.

I started with Threatening  us with injury is a punishable crime; as is everything Negan does in the show. I don’t accept that the character of Negan is realistically drawn or portrayed. I don’t accept that people will simply do as they’re told because they are afraid. There are too many examples of the contrary being true throughout history. The Governor was far more believable as a character, which means TWD has done the evil leader thing already in the show, and done it better previously.

Religious zealots who adopt labels like savior, groups that submerge the self, like Fight Club and Tyler Durden, they have a certain way of speaking and thinking, at least on the screen. This is important if you want your audience to come along with you for the ride. The first Negans, the first saviors our heroes meet in TWD? They displayed this behavior in a vague sense. It was a nice teaser, as far as teasers go.

Unfortunately it was a tease that was completely lost when we meet the Negan himself. He is no Tyler Durden. He doesn’t suffer to show his followers his dedication to the cause. The Negan is just another dictator. Kill him and the cult of personality dissolves because the power, the person, is lost. The problem of repercussions is negated if the saviors fall apart without him. The more complex, religiously motivated cult-like group is probably what the comic portrays (I don’t know or really care) but the writers for the television show wrote something else.  Negan grooms his people to blindly follow him. Without him they are nothing. This is just basic character motivation here. It isn’t hard to follow.

No, Negan would have been dead the first time he handed Rick the bat. Be honest. There wasn’t enough saviors there to do anything except die. The show has been torture porn since the end of season seven. I have only continued watching out of vague curiosity as to how the writers will complete the story. I ceased caring about the characters somewhere about minute 45 of Last Day on Earth. I ceased caring out of  a sense of self-preservation. It was clear through the course of that episode that the writers were purposefully tormenting the viewers with the death of their beloved characters. I don’t have time for that kind of mental illness.

If you are enjoying torture porn, you might want to ask yourself why? It’s a question everyone watching should ask themselves, and at least be truthful with yourself about the answer. What the answer implies is between you and your conscience alone. After all, no one will remember why you died in the zombie apocalypse. They won’t even remember that you lived.

Editor’s note, 2020. Google+ comments reposted to the blog, with an addendum for the re-awakened zombie thread that it was. “It is always now on the internet” The comments were copied in 2018 with a bit of prescient foresight. Google+ was taken offline not too long after the comments were made.

Newt Knight

Free State of Jones (2016)

We just finished watching Free State of Jones starring one of my favorite Austinites, Matthew McConaughey. I really, really wanted to like this movie, which is probably why its meh presentation frustrated and disappointed me so thoroughly. It’s slow in places. The film makes some unexpected turns and time jumps that leave the audience puzzling over events and characters, distracting them from what is happening on the screen.

Perhaps another editor could have fixed this problem? It’s really hard to say. Films like this one are a testament to just how hard it is to get even the most gripping stories and well-written scripts in front of audiences in a form that they will understand and appreciate. Thousands of people have to do their jobs flawlessly. The directors, editors, and producers all have to have the same vision of the finished product in mind the entire time that the film is in production. The actors have to create believable characterizations that can speak to the viewing audience. The film crew and audio crew have to capture those performances flawlessly. If any one group of people fails to do their job, including craft services, that failure will be noticeable in the finished product. If what the audience ends up watching doesn’t connect, for whatever reason, all of those people’s time, energy and dedication can come to naught. It is heartbreaking when this happens to good actors and good stories.

The story of Free State of Jones is one that everyone should be familiar with, but have probably never heard before. It is a portion of the life story of Newt Knight, a plantation owner who never owned slaves while living in the slave state of Mississippi in the years leading up to the Civil War,

“He was a Primitive Baptist who didn’t drink, didn’t cuss, doted on children and could reload and fire a double-barreled, muzzle-loading shotgun faster than anyone else around,” said Moulds. “Even as an old man, if someone rubbed him the wrong way, he’d have a knife at their throat in a heartbeat. A lot of people will tell you that Newt was just a renegade, out for himself, but there’s good evidence that he was a man of strong principles who was against secession, against slavery and pro-Union.”

Smithsonian Mag.,The True Story of the ‘Free State of Jones’, March 2016

After volunteering for the Confederate army and being involved in several botched battles with heavy casualties, he deserted the army and returned to Jones County and his now-ruined plantation. All of this is covered in the movie, to some extent. What extent is real and what is contrived for the convenience of filmatic storytelling is open to question; open to question because not even historians agree when it comes to the details of Newt Knight’s life. The one thing they all do seem to agree on is that, after the war was ended and the South was returned to the Union, Newt Knight remained a supporter of equal rights for all without regard to skin color. Which is why he’s still a pariah in his home state and even in the county of Jones, Mississippi. It is also one possible explanation as to why the film about his story is so hard to follow. It’s hard to follow because the principles involved in the film are too close to the subject matter and so cannot see the big picture, the story that needs to be told.

Which is a shame. Because the story of a white Southerner who rebelled against secession, a plantation owner who hated slavery, is exactly the kind of story this country needs right now. It just isn’t the story that the film Free State of Jones ends up telling. Maybe someday the events of that war, the history of slavery in the US, all of it will be far enough in the past that we can give the story of Newt Knight a proper telling in a visual medium. Maybe in that future time there will be a monument to Newt Knight in the Jones county seat, and not a monument to the Confederate soldiers of the Civil War. The existence of that monument is a testament to the fact that the cause of the Civil War still exists in the minds of the people living in the old South and all across the United States. The cause still has converts living in the US right now. Maybe someday we will end that war, if we are lucky.

“The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

William Faulkner

Expanded from four sentences, 27 words and a web address, written as a Facebook status. To say I expanded this one is just a bit of an understatement.