Friday, November 29, 2019

Blast from the Past Movie Review: Guyver 2: Dark Hero (1994)

Although the film podcast Myopia: Defend Your Childhood did an episode on the film The Guyver on my suggestion, it didn't seem like there was much of an interest from anybody in doing an episode on the sequel Guyver: Dark Hero. Given the film's iffy quality, I can't exactly blame them. Since movies and e-books are very helpful in getting me through otherwise-dull elliptical sessions, I snagged this one off Amazon Prime for a pre-Thanksgiving workout and off we went...

The Plot

It's been a year since Sean Barker (David Hayter) bonded with the Guyver, a suit of biomechanical armor of alien origin. With the evil Kronos Corporation and its alien Zoanoid warriors defeated, the armor's urge to battle evil prompts Sean to fight (and oftentimes kill) drug dealers and other criminals. This alienates him from his girlfriend Mizki (Billi Lee) from the first film, who thinks he's going insane and has no time for his "I don't kill, it kills" excuses. Plagued by strange dreams and seeing news on television of "a werewolf attack," Sean sets off for an archaeological dig in Utah overseen by Cori Edwards (Kathy Christopherson) and her father Dr. Marcus Edwards (Stuart Weiss), a pair of renegade scientists investigating things like Bigfoot, crop circles, etc.

Unfortunately, the Kronos Corporation turns out to be involved, as are a bunch of even more skilled and dangerous Zoanoids. Sean is in for the fight of his life...

The Good

*It's a fast-moving and entertaining film--most of the time.

*The script and the dialogue, although they have their issues, represent a significant improvement over the ponderous original. Watching clips of the original on YouTube (they've taken down the full movie since we watched it for Myopia, it seems), it's clear just how clunky the original was and how improved this one is.

*The opening narration is a vast improvement over the original, which had a laughably obnoxious combination of a Star Wars opening crawl ripoff and a ponderous voice-over. Instead we get a quick introduction complete with the image of the Guyver unit flashing and doing its thing and then we cut to a bunch of drug smugglers murdering a security guard.

*Replacing Jack Armstrong with David Hayter in the role of Sean is a vast improvement given how poor Armstrong's acting was in the original film. Even though Mizki is absent for most of the film, Billi Lee is an improvement on Vivian Wu. No unintentional hilarity, hard-to-understand accents, and overdramatic silliness from these two.

*Cori is a much stronger and more driven character than the passive Mizki.

*The fight choreography has improved quite a bit over the original film. In-universe I suppose it's because Sean has had more time to train in martial arts and learn about his armor and these Zoanoids aren't just Kronos's hired gang-banger muscle, but regardless it's much less silly to watch.

*We finally figure out just what Kronos's master plan is besides "conduct grossly unethical medical experiments to turn people into shape-shifting monsters."

The Bad

*There were several parts of the movie, particularly those taking place at night or in the cave system where the archaeological stuff was taking place, that were difficult to see. This might've been because I was watching it on my Kindle at my not-as-well-lit apartment gym (the LA Fitness didn't have that problem), but I don't think I've had that problem before. Something to keep in mind.

*Toward the end of the film there are some parts where it dragged.

*Given all the crap Sean and Mizki went through together in the first film and how they're still together a year afterward despite her knowledge of what Sean does with the armor, I would have liked more acknowledgement of their relationship. Instead Sean moves onto a new love interest relatively quickly--the film seems to take place over the course of only a few days, meaning that he and Mizki broke up at most a week before. It would have been much more interesting if he'd written her a letter or called her from the archaeological site indicating that he had found Zoanoids and she followed him there, with the Kronos Corporation taking note that she's the daughter of the traitor Dr. Segawa. Given the need to keep the run-time concise, throwing in a full-on love triangle might not fly, but Sean just forgets her too quickly.

*Speaking of Sean, in the first half or so of the movie he's really self-absorbed and aggravating. Somebody really needs to read How To Win Friends and Influence People and commit it to memory.

*Given how the Zoanoid Striker (Jimmie Walker) from the first movie survived and is implied to have defected to the CIA, it would have been amusing to see him again. Although he was easily the weakest of the Kronos Corporation's minions and didn't seem overly dedicated to the cause ("JUST DOING MY JOB!"), he did rough up Mizki and I imagine Sean would not be pleased to see him again. Furthermore, given his outlandishly stereotypical antics in the first film, perhaps fellow African-American Atkins (Christopher Michael) finds him embarrassing and has forced him to get his 'hood tendencies under control, including no longer letting him speak entirely in rap.

(I'm now imagining a scene where Atkins unleashes Striker against Kronos's Zoanoids and he relapses into his ghetto persona in front of Sean. An embarrassed Atkins has to chew him out.)

*The opening credits after the battle with the drug dealers are way too long.

*There are some unintentionally hilarious slow-mo scenes and scenes where Barker is trying to yell. Although Hayter is an improvement over Armstrong, he still has his Narm-ish moments.

The Verdict

An improvement over the original, but still not exactly great cinema. Worth renting or streaming, but not really worth buying. 7.0 out of 10.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Blast from the Past Movie Review: Patriot Games (1992)

The month of November 2019 was Harrison Ford month for the film podcast Myopia: Defend Your Childhood. The first movie we did was The Fugitive (podcast here), while the second one we did was Patriot Games. Here's the podcast. And now for the review...

The Plot

Historian, retired CIA agent, and retired Marine Jack Ryan (Harrison Ford) is visiting Great Britain to lecture some Royal Navy students when he foils an attack on a British government official by members of a more militant Irish Republican Army faction, killing young terrorist Patrick Miller (Karl Hayden) in the process. Unfortunately Patrick's older brother Sean Miller (Sean Bean) survives the incident and vows revenge on the injured Ryan. Now we have a trans-Atlantic cat-and-mouse game, with the lives of Ryan's daughter Sally (Thora Birch) and pregnant wife Cathy (Anne Archer) at stake as well.

The Good

*Although I felt The Fugitive was dull in places, I didn't have that problem with Patriot Games. The movie moves along briskly and there's never a dull moment. They simplify a lot of the plot from the book (the IRA factionalism and ideology is downplayed, as I explain below, plus there's no scheme to recruit black militants to assist Miller's revenge) and that's a good thing.

*Sean Miller has a character arc, getting progressively more unhinged in his desire to kill Ryan even when it interferes with other IRA objectives. It's so obvious that I was wondering when his IRA bosses (the IRA was pretty organized for a terrorist group, run along rather military lines) were going to remove him from the mission or even straight-up kill him as a liability. He even straight-up calls the Ryans' house to taunt Jack about his injured daughter, for crying out loud. He's probably using up a lot of IRA funds on long-distance calls from Africa. Considering the IRA at least tried to look humanitarian (i.e. calling ahead before setting off their bombs), knife-twisting sadism by one of their operatives in an area where they had a lot of sympathy (New England and particularly Boston) is something that would really undermine the organization's goals and one hothead is ultimately expendable.

*As Nic pointed out in the podcast, the movie has an excellent roster of early 1990s actors. Harrison Ford, Anne Archer, Samuel L. Jackson, James Earl Jones, Sean Bean. Everybody does a great job, which logically means good direction as well.

(If you want to see good actors with bad direction look at pretty much everybody in Revenge of the Sith. Sorry George.)

*Although the movie doesn't go into nit-picky detail about the factionalism within the IRA or the IRA's exact beliefs (a lot of South Boston types naively sending money to Belfast would probably be horrified to find most IRA factions are varying degrees of Marxist and some just use "the revolution" as an excuse for criminal activity like drug-dealing), it does retain the book's subplot that Miller's crew is intent on setting up other members to be taken out by the British (or simply murdering them themselves) to strengthen their own position. It's very quick and subtle here--we're not talking about Game of Thrones-level intrigue with poverty and brogues.

The Bad

*There's a lot of, in TVTropes terms, Easy Logistics going on here. Sean and his merry band travel from England to America to what's pretty obviously Libya and back to America again pretty easily, despite being hunted by the British intelligence agencies and presumably American ones as well. Miller's initial escape from Britain is explained in-film and makes sense given the IRA's connections to Libya, but how does he make the other trips, especially so quickly? It seems like the movie takes place over the course of no more than a month or so, given how the elder Miller's trial takes place after the attack and before the real cat-and-mouse game starts.

*In the books the IRA's initial targets are pretty obviously Prince Charles and Princess Diana, although I don't think they're named. Given the fame of the two, one wonders why this was changed to some random British official who's a cousin of the royal family. Did they think the movie would suffer in Britain or Ireland if they depicted the IRA trying to abduct or kill the very popular Princess Diana?

*Jack Ryan is of Irish background and Catholic himself, something that's not really touched on in the film. Given Miller's hatred for Irish who work for the British government and an IRA spokesman's insistence he would commit suicide before selling out his "countryman" Miller, someone could at least touch on that even if they don't spend a lot of time on it. The IRA spokesman could try to play that card with Ryan and get shut down, perhaps in the "gun money" scene in the bar.

*As was pointed out in the podcast, the sole female IRA member Annette (Polly Walker) is explicitly described as being English, but we get little about her motivation. The IRA is easy for outsiders to romanticize given the historical mistreatment of the Irish by the British and how the Protestant majority of Northern Ireland mistreated the Catholic minority in recent years, so making her some kind of student radical who naively joined what she thought was some kind of liberation army and is now too deep to ever get out might've been interesting. Or if you want to plagiarize Leon Uris's Trinity, which is about the lead-up to the independence of (most of) Ireland in the 20th Century, she could have followed a boy into the struggle. Given the IRA's Marxism, there's also "the workingmen of the world have no country" anti-nationalism or she simply could be an extremist English Republican who just hates the monarchy. This isn't something that needs a lot of explanation--she could reference it in her conversations with the bookstore owner Dennis Cooley (Alex Norton), for example.

The Verdict

Definitely worth a watch. 9.0 out of 10.

Alternate History Scenario: A Secret German Atomic Bomb?

Here's the latest interesting scenario from the alternate history forum--what if Germany had a secret nuclear arsenal? Given how anti-nuclear much of the German public is to the point they'll shut down nuclear plants and go back to coal, even if it means increasing carbon-dioxide emissions, and anti-military, plus the absolute fury that would result from countries Germany ravaged during World War II if this was discovered (the treaties that allowed German reunification renounce forever nuclear weapons, for starters) it seems unlikely. That said, democratic states can be swayed by popular opinion, but a dictatorship has much less reason to care.

So behold "Die Atombomben der Bundesrepublik: An Oral History of Germany's Nuclear Weapons Program," in which the new chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany learns that the reason the East German leadership was treated so leniently after the fall of the Wall is because they bequeathed a secret East German nuclear arsenal to the new united Germany. Unlike South Africa, the new leadership decided to keep said weapons rather than dismantle them. And given the drama that would result if this ever became public, only a few top military officials and the chancellor themselves are aware of this--the new chancellor receives a special one-hour briefing upon their ascension.

(That reminds me a lot of the reveal in I think Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix that the Muggle Prime Minister is only informed of the existence of a secret magical society in Great Britain when they take office and it's a massive shock for them.)

The author has gone into a lot of detail about the suppression of the Prague Spring, the East German internal political situation, East Germany's infamous espionage apparatus, etc. It's a really interesting read.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019


Last week artist Matt Cowdery sent me the final version of the cover for my forthcoming independent fantasy novel Battle for the Wastelands, which I describe as "Dark Tower meets Game of Thrones." Behold in all its glory:

Does this mean the actual book is coming soon? Probably not. I need to finish some proofreading based on comments from Jason Sizemore and then fire the manuscript off to him for e-book and print formatting. I also need to finish the book description--I have a bare-bones description already written, modeled after Wolf in Shadow, but I want to run it by my writing group--and find a way to get the book title, my author name, and the blurb on the front without junking up the image. Amazon KDP Print has a built-in mechanism for cover design, but it might be a bit generic. Given how much money I've spent on editing, the cover, etc. I might as well spend a smidge more so it isn't all for nothing.

Speaking of blurbs, here are the blurbs I got from Sizemore and independent author Jack Conner, who wrote the Atomic Sea series:

Sizemore: "Battle for the Wastelands is a gritty, fast-paced war story centering on the powerful concepts of revenge and leadership."

Conner: "A rip-roaring post-apocalyptic adventure that will have you racing through the pages!"

It seems to me that the biggest obstacle remaining is to get the text and what-not on the cover and come up with a good book description. I wrote the book description for The Thing in the Woods myself and it's pretty good, but formatting the cover--especially if I want something resembling the Michael Whelan Dark Tower covers or the pre-TV series A Song of Ice and Fire covers--is something I need to be careful about. Does anybody have any recommendations?

Monday, November 25, 2019

Another "Bittersweet" Alternate Ending for GAME OF THRONES

The other day I had another idea for a "bittersweet" (per George RR Martin's stated plan) ending for the Game of Thrones television series that draws on the scripts of Alice Shipwise. In one of her "Battle of Winterfell" episodes, she depicts the Northerners--who had earlier been skeptical of Danaerys Targaryen due to her foreignness--converting hard-core for her after seeing the dragons in action against the White Walkers. This seems a lot more realistic than what happens in the actual show where the Northerners hail Jon Snow as "a madman...OR A KING" for riding a dragon, much to the ignored Danaerys' irritation.

(Seriously, she's been doing this for years and much more effectively, yet Jon who I don't think was very successful at commanding Rhaegal in battle is the one getting all the glory. Yes, they know him better than her, but still.)

Things broadly follow the television series until the attack on King's Landing. The city begins ringing its bells in surrender, but the Lannister die-hards continue firing on Danaerys from the Red Keep. Danaerys goes full dracarys on the Red Keep itself (not on the hundreds of thousands of non-combatants trying to surrender), only to accidentally trigger the wildfire stashes her father Aerys had stashed throughout the city. This leads to King's Landing going up like in the show, only with Danaerys watching in horror from atop Drogon as Jon, Grey Worm, Arya, etc. flee the city in a panic rather than her gratuitously murdering hundreds of thousand of helpless civilians and then making a megalomaniac speech about conquering the world afterward.

(I came up with a similar scenario around the time of the series finale and Twitterati Jacob Budz came up with a more detailed version and created a meme for it, which you can see here. Or just see below.)

Danaerys and her allies come together afterward and realize they have a massive mess on their hands. Not only do they have an enormous humanitarian crisis to deal with, but word is rapidly spreading in the South of the "Mad Queen" who murdered King's Landing, on top of the xenophobic nonsense Cersei had already been spreading earlier. Even though they all know that this isn't what happened, what matters is what people will believe. Danaerys isn't going to be accepted as a liberator from the White Walkers (most of Westerosi doubt they actually exist) or Cersei "I blew up the equivalent of the Vatican" Lannister. She will have to conquer most of Westeros with fire and blood. Although earlier in the series she'd made all sorts of threats to do exactly that (as people who defended her evil turn at the end of the series love to point out), seeing firsthand what this will entail on top of the losses she'd taken earlier (both personally and in dead soldiers) have soured her on the whole proposition. Bonus points if it turns out that, as Jon Snow pointed out earlier in the series, that witch wasn't a reliable source and Danaerys is pregnant with Jon's child.

(This is perhaps where Bran can come in, as Danaerys might not know she's pregnant at this point. This is another idea I borrowed from Ms. Shipwise, as it might make Jon agree to a political marriage even if he finds the idea of sleeping with his aunt gross.)

So what ends up happening is that Tyrion Lannister, who is once described as standing "as tall as a king" despite his dwarfism, ends up succeeding his sister Cersei as the king of everything south of the Neck. Jon retains his title as King in the North with Danaerys--whom the Northerners now adore even though people in the South view her as a monster--as his queen. To secure peace between the now-sundered halves of Westeros, Sansa's marriage to Tyrion is re-instituted.

(EDIT: A friend pointed out this could potentially undo Sansa's character development from a prince-obsessed bimbo into Littlefinger 2.0. This would need to be handled carefully--perhaps it's her idea, to immediately terminate the war rather than risk the rise of an anti-Targaryen leader in the South? The fact she and Tyrion both worship the Seven while Jon follows the Old Gods and Danaerys is irreligious might be helpful in heading off a Faith-inspired holy war against the pagan and the atheist. You could have Jon find it horrifying but ultimately agree to it.)

Like my scenarios earlier, this would meet Martin's goal of a "bittersweet" ending:

*The war ends with the victory of good over both supernatural and human evil, but enormous numbers of innocent people die anyway. Shades of Hiroshima.

*Danaerys wins the war but loses the peace purely by accident (as opposed to the contrived "everything goes wrong and she goes crazy" scenario we got in the show) due to other people's ignorance and bigotry. She gets to marry the man she honest-to-God loves, but it's a shotgun marriage with Jon's enthusiasm rather lacking given the revelation she's actually his biological aunt. Danaerys might not be bothered by the incest part, but she only has one-eighth (two-eighths if Yara Greyjoy and the Iron Islands come along) of what she sailed west to fight for--and it's the poorest and most backward section too. And although the fact she brings the world's only living dragon with her and Jon is a fairly mild personality means she's not going to be mistreated and will realistically have a large say in things, she's still a consort to a less-talented man rather than ruling queen.

*Although Sansa does get her childhood wish to be queen, it's to a man that, although she trusted him enough to spill the beans about Jon being a Targaryen and respected him due to his unwillingness to consummate their forced marriage, she has no romantic feelings or even physical attraction to whatsoever. And who is probably twice her age to boot. Of course, Tyrion does respect her intelligence and this would likely be some kind of Rule of Two situation rather than some kind of "unattractive nerd power fantasy," but still.

(My original idea featured Sansa remaining in the North, which means a future of catfighting with Danaerys, but this wouldn't be much fun either and it would give her even less opportunity to show off her intelligence and political savvy.)

Sunday, November 24, 2019

How I Would Have Done Priest (2011) Spoilers!

Awhile back, I wrote a blog post reviewing the 2011 post-apocalyptic Catholic vampire Western (try saying that five times fast) Priest. I gave the movie a 7.5 out of 10 because of all the missed opportunities they had, although it was still a pretty entertaining film in a fascinating world.

Well, anybody can criticize. Here's how I would have done the movie. This might get a little long, so imagine it as the first season of a television series if a three-hour mega-epic won't do. I mention how I would have done certain things a few times on a Myopia Movies episode, but here's the whole thing.

Act I

I would keep the film's beginning broadly the same, with the animated prologue explaining this alternate world's history and the priests' commando raid on the Santa Mira vampire hive. The main difference would be that the priests, when they're demobilized from the military, are returned to normal clerical duties rather than simply sent out into the world to make whatever living they can. The vampire attack on the Pace homestead can stay the same as well, although Lucy's dialogue would sound more like that of a frustrated teenage girl.

When we first meet the titular priest, he's officiating Mass and his parishioners, though superficially respectful, are clearly uncomfortable with him. When Mass is done, a little boy tries to talk to him, only for his mother to hustle him away. The priest, who is simply addressed as "Father George" (named for Saint George, the dragonslayer) then goes to confession. His confession is interspersed with further flashbacks to the attack on the Santa Mira hive and the apparent death of his friend Father Jude, Karl Urban's "Black Hat" character. The biblical Saint Jude would have had the same Hebrew name as Judas Iscariot, but owing to how tainted Judas is, "Jude" is used instead. It's clear Jude's death is still weighing on his conscience and his confessor--which would still be a Turing-type program like in the film--is of no help.

Meanwhile, we see the captive Lucy on the train and the reveal that Jude is still alive--and based on his eyes, not fully human.

George returns to his apartment and attacks the man who's following him, revealed to be Hicks, the young sheriff of the town of Augustine. He asks George for help in finding his missing niece Lucy and we can see on George's features this is a sore spot for him. George agrees and goes before his superiors in the Church to ask for a leave of absence from his priestly duties to search for his niece. Although Monsignor Chamberlain, one of the ruling bishops of the city, speaks in his defense, the senior cleric Monsignor Orelas disagrees. Orelas tells him the attack was mostly likely by common bandits and for a priest to leave on a vampire hunting mission would risk causing a panic. He's denied permission, even when he offers to make it seem like he's going on a spiritual pilgrimage or even a missionary trip to the outlying communities where the Church's power is weak.

Cut to the bar where we see George talking to Chamberlain. It's clear he's going to go anyway and Chamberlain is trying to dissuade him, taking up the party line that to defy Church authority is to defy God. I would have him support his argument with actual Scripture--many abusive pastors have used Psalm 105:15 to justify their behavior, while since the Church is also the governing authority, Romans 13:1-7 would also apply. George could retort with Scripture of his own--Mark 2:27, for example, or Hosea 8:4. Chamberlain reluctantly brings in some soldiers to arrest George and George proceeds to wipe the floor with them, although he's careful not to actually kill them. He leaves and makes one last stop to pray like in the film (making it even more clear that his defiance of Church authority is not a renunciation of his faith) before leaving with Hicks.

Act II

George and Hicks come to Augustine and George has a last moment with his mortally wounded brother Owen about the vampire attack and where they might have done. The conversation drops some interesting hints about George's family situation. Owen might fear God's punishment for some unnamed transgression and George reminds him of Deuteronomy 25:5, although he doesn't actually say what the passage is. He then administers the last rites to Owen as he dies.

After the burial of Owen and Shannon, Hicks and George set off for the vampire reservation. Along the way, Hicks (who is clearly too young to remember the war) asks George why the Church allowed even a small number of vampire survivors. George can make some comment about how the vampires are God's creations even if they are soulless predators and to annihilate them completely would be sacrilegious. George then reveals he knows Hicks is in love with Lucy and Hicks confesses that even though he was the town's sheriff, he was too intimidated by Owen to ask his blessing to marry Lucy and when he finally drummed up the courage, he arrived at the homestead when the vampires were leaving after the attack. He saw that Lucy was being carried off away alive and beats himself up for not trying to rescue her. George tells him that he did the right thing in seeking his help--he would have gotten killed for no purpose.

The arrival at the vampire reservation and like in the canonical film, find the Church's border guards missing and the creepy Familiars strangely uncooperative. They interrogate them and inspect the facility, finding the Church guards dead. The Familiars attack them and Hicks and George kill all but one--but it takes so long that night begins to fall and the vampires emerge from their crypts. There's a fight and it's clear that most of the vampires have left the reservation. They set off for Sola Mira, the nearest of the old vampire hives.

Meanwhile, Monsignor Orelas has summoned several surviving priests and orders them to arrest George. He will address them all by name--the Priestess, for example, will be named Deborah, after the only female Hebrew judge. Deborah seems to have been commander-in-chief with Barak the one actually commanding the army and physically fighting (we're not talking about a Jewish version of Xena Warrior Princess here), but Deborah is the closest to a Biblical female warrior I can think of. The names of the remaining priests aren't important, but I would have given them other Biblical names. For example, the Asian male priest who is killed by "Black Hat" in the actual film ("Jude" in my version), for example, would probably be named Peter, since in the Bible Peter attempted to physically defend Jesus when He was arrested and "Peter" is the only one we see actually attacking the villain. Deborah sets off for Sola Mira, while the three other priests head for the town of Jericho.

Meanwhile, back on the train, Jude is wining and dining Lucy, offering her rich foods instead of the simple peasant fare she's used to like in the actual film. He's playing on her resentment of her life back on the farm and revealing some of his own discontent with the Church and the priestly system. Although she opens up to him somewhat like in the film, she still hides a silver knife in her dress when he's not looking. When the vampire train arrives in Jericho, Jude attempts to recruit three of the priests sent after George and when they reject him, there's a full-on three-on-one battle where Jude and his vampire minions obliterate them. This shows just how dangerous Jude in, both as an individual combatant and in his ability to command vampires. Deborah finds George and Hicks at Sola Mira and we have something resembling the canonical film, including the hints of romantic feelings on her part. The trio then find Jericho in ruins and the priests crucified.

Deborah makes her move on George, citing how Shannon is dead, but George rejects her. The big reveal that George is Lucy's father and Owen had replaced him as Shannon's husband when the Church recruited George for the priesthood comes in this scene as well. Deuteronomy 25:5 is about a man marrying his brother's widow to continue the family line, while the Church could have abused Romans 6 ("dead to sin alive in Christ") to claim that George had died and therefore it's okay for Owen to marry his brother's "widow" per Deuteronomy 25:5. All this religious and romantic brooding is interrupted by everybody realizing the vampire train is heading for the main city, where the air pollution is so severe it blots out the sun, and there's going to be a massacre if it isn't stopped.


The fight to keep the vampire apocalypse train from reaching the city. Deborah sabotages the rails while George and Hicks attempt to rescue Lucy from Jude. During the battle on the train, Black Hat reveals that the queen of the vampires had fed him her blood to make him a hybrid creature that can withstand the sun. This blessing he intends to share with the people under the Church's control whether they like it or not--remember, no villain thinks of themselves as the villain and he was a Catholic priest at one point so he might view himself as still dispensing blessings. Ultimately the train is destroyed, but Black Hat's body is never found and the vampire queen's body isn't on the train either. While Hicks takes Lucy back home, George and Deborah return to the city and confront Monsignor Orelas, revealing the vampires are still a threat and that Orelas had attempted to prevent George from proving this. Monsignor Chamberlain uses this as an opportunity to have Orelas arrested and takes over as senior cleric, recalling the retired priests to service and declaring renewed war on the vampires.

The canonical film has a lot of obvious threads hanging--the vampire queen is obviously still out there, I'm pretty sure Black Hat isn't actually dead, and the Priestess is gathering the other retired priests for a renewed war in defiance of Monsignor Orelas--so it's a pity the film didn't make enough to justify a sequel. Not only could this have been the basis for a film series, but this could be a movie-length opener to a television show.

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Blast from the Past Movie Review: 10,000 BC (2008)

Once upon a time, not long after I graduated from the University of Georgia, a movie called 10,000 BC came out. The reviews were poor and I probably had more important things to do, so I didn't bother to see it even though I vaguely thought it looked kind of cool. However, I eventually got Netflix to watch The Dark Crystal show and obviously I'm not going to pay $12.99 per month for just one show, so I decided to snag this one on a whim.

The Plot

In prehistoric Europe (per the Wikipedia it's somewhere in the Ural Mountains, although I got the vibe it was just north of the Alps), a tribe of mammoth hunters adopts a orphaned girl named Evolet (played as an adult by Camilla Belle). The youth D'Leh (played as an adult by Steven Strait) soon develops a crush on her. As an adult he claims her as his woman by slaying a mammoth, only for her and many other villagers to be taken prisoner by a bunch of vaguely Semitic slave-raiders. He and some friends follow them in a rescue attempt, a journey that will ultimately take them to the Mediterranean and one of the rising civilizations of the Near East.

The Good

*No matter how ridiculous it gets, it's a fast-paced and exciting movie. It's never boring and makes good fodder for exercise--time flies when you're watching cavemen fight giant killer birds, saber-toothed cats, and maybe-Mesopotamian slave-raiders on a journey from Europe all the way to what looks like Egypt. And there are lots of exciting and awesome moments.

*There's some good imagery here, including just what it is that some of the fringe inhabitants of the evil Bronze Age empire's realm describe as birds.

*I'm glad they used prehistoric terror-birds as movie monsters. Although it's been done in the novel The Flock that was long ago optioned for film (although who knows if it'll ever be made), I don't recall it ever being done on film before.

*Although nobody is really stretching themselves, the acting is all right.

*I liked the general look of the protagonist and his tribe. Their mainstay is hunting mammoths and other large game, so their homes and clothing look to be made of animal hides and, for solid structure, bones. They're Caucasian, but they have darker skin and dreadlocks, with the lighter-skinned and blue-eyed Evolet an orphan from a different tribe. Given how the earliest humans came from Africa and genetic evidence suggests early Europeans were darker-skinned as recent as 8,000 years ago, them being in some kind of transitional state between modern notions of "white" and "black" makes sense. And the villains seem rather Mediterranean, which would make sense given how the centers of early civilization were all there and Europe (with the exception of parts of Greece and that was later) was basically a bunch of dudes in bearskins at that point. Mediterranean peoples taking European hunter-gatherers as slaves wouldn't be unrealistic--after all, scientists found a Carthaginian man with maternal-line DNA connecting him to hunter-gatherer peoples who lived in present-day Spain.

*The soundtrack is pretty good.

The Bad

*The dialogue needs a lot of improvement, especially early on in the film. It's clunky and too on-the-nose. The latter part is most blatant with the young D'Leh and Evolet--for someone who's about eight, D'Leh is remarkably poetic about his feelings for Evolet, whom he probably doesn't even really know that well at this point. The dialogue continues to be bad, leading to several moments of unintentional hilarity. Honestly I would have thought someone like Roland Emmerich could have found a better screenwriter to co-write the film with him.

*Even though they did get some of the ethnic stuff (maybe) right, as TVTropes put it, the film puts Rule of Cool ahead of anything remotely resembling historical accuracy. If you don't care about that sort of thing this isn't a problem, but if you do it's probably a low-level irritation. Seriously, an Italian or Swiss (or maybe even Russian) hunter-gatherer leads a tribe of Zulus or Kushites to war against what looks like either Egypt or Sumer that's ruled by a god-king type who may or may not be human. And one of his minions looks like a Middle Eastern John Wayne (with a mullet no less) who has the voice of a Goa'uld and talks in the Black Speech.

*It's hard to tell some of the cavemen characters apart, especially early on in the film.

*I'd have loved more on the main villain, whom we don't meet until much later. Not going into more detail for reasons of spoilers. There are some hints, but they're very blink-and-you-miss-it. I only got the clue from checking TVTropes to make sure I didn't miss anything.

The Verdict

If you're looking for a prehistoric fantasy movie in the vein of Fire and Ice or the caveman films of the late 1960s and early 1970s like When Dinosaurs Ruled The Earth and One Million Years BC with better special effects, go for it. A good movie to rent or stream, especially if you need something to keep you busy while you exercise. 7.5 out of 10.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

A Less Lame Fate for John Connor in TERMINATOR: DARK FATE

When Terminator: Dark Fate was slated for release, I really wanted to see it. They were bringing back Linda Hamilton for Sarah Connor and Edward Furlong for John Connor, which was pretty cool. Of the Terminator films I've seen, Terminator and Terminator II: Judgement Day were the best ones, with Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines and Terminator Salvation being kind of meh. I didn't even bother with Terminator: Genisys due to awful reviews and the whole "John Connor gets turned into a robot" part, even though the idea of a Terminator raising Sarah Connor to be a bad-ass after an evil Terminator tried to kill her as a child seemed kind of cool.

Then I learned that in Dark Fate they basically kill off John pretty early on and the future leader of the resistance against the machines--this time a new being called Legion instead of SkyNet--is a Mexican woman named Dani Ramos. I can understand the desire by many in the entertainment industry to appeal to more diverse audiences and make it so not every hero of every story is a white male, but killing off John Connor to make way for a Mexican female leader of the resistance is about as subtle as hitting the audience in the head with a sledgehammer.

So here's an idea I had that would allow for a younger, more diverse cast to take the stage without showing contempt for John Connor, who it turns out wasn't that important after all. It's based on this deleted scene from a special director's cut of T2:

In a world where Judgement Day never happened, John Connor is now a U.S. Senator and as such has access to all sorts of classified information, which he passes onto his mother, who uses it to fight SkyNet incursions. This is similar to how the "Carl" Terminator that killed John Connor but ultimately learned to love and fight for humanity secretly sends Sarah information to help her fight other SkyNet incursions. Perhaps in defeating one such attack, Sarah captures a Terminator and reprograms it to help her fight other Terminators, thus leading to this world's version of "Carl."

Ultimately, like in the canonical film, SkyNet and its future are ultimately erased, leaving "Carl" stranded in our world as the last of his kind. However, the new evil AI Legion emerges later and the whole "time-traveling machine war" starts up again, with Dani as the prophesied leader of this new resistance much like John Connor was the prophesied leader of the old one.

This solution seems like it would please everybody--it keeps the more diverse and female-centric cast that many people liked about Dark Fate (John doesn't even need to be physically present for the action--he could send Sarah information that allows her to find Dani and Grace before the new Rev-9 Terminator kills them) while at the same time avoiding a rather bone-headed attempt at being "woke."

Monday, November 11, 2019


Here's the current status of the cover for my forthcoming independent military fantasy Battle for the Wastelands. Artist Matt Cowdery says it's about halfway done.

So far so awesome. Seriously, it's going to look great when it's done. The horseman needs his rifle (probably a Spencer repeating rifle from the American Civil War) as well as a saddle and saddlebags and a cowboy hat to signal to readers that this is a Western (or at least Western-ish). I also had some quibbles about the placement of weapons on the airships' gondolas, but those are relatively easy fixes.

Definitely looking forward to the next update!

Friday, November 8, 2019

Alternate History: Japanese Avoid Midway To Attack South, Large Scandinavian Jewish Population

Went visiting the alternate history forum again and found a couple interesting scenarios that I'm posting here for your enjoyment.

Operation FS: Japan's Final Strike-One of Japan's military plans that was never actually executed was Operation FS, the planned occupation of Fiji, Samoa, and New Caledonia. The ultimate goal of the plan was to cut off Australia from the United States and force it out of the war. The plan was supposed to be executed after the destruction of the U.S. Pacific Fleet at Midway. Fortunately the United States won that round and the plan, already in jeopardy due to the Battle of the Coral Sea, was shelved. In this scenario, due to some messages getting through to the Japanese high command that didn't in real history, the U.S. loses the carrier Yorktown as well as the carrier Lexington at the Coral Sea. This leads to the shelving of the Midway operation and the go-ahead to strike south. Although economic realities mean that Japan is still going to get reamed--and the timeline's opening states the operation will ultimately fail--how the Japanese ultimately fail and what effects this operation has elsewhere could be significant. And these types of scenarios are always fun to read if one is interested in the Pacific Theater of World War II.

Gy├░inga Saga - The History of the Jews of Scandinavia-In this scenario, there's a larger movement of Jews into Scandinavia earlier than in real life that leads to the emergence of a Jewish community that views itself as neither Sephardic nor Ashkenazi. The main scenario has some plausibility issues--the latter part discusses the experience of these Jews under Nazi rule, but with a divergence that far back Hitler might not even come to power in the first place--but the follow-up discussion is pretty interesting. For starters, these Jews will be much, much more European genetically (due to intermarriage between male Jews and pagan women of other Scandinavian or Baltic ethnic groups, with the resulting children raised as Jewish) than the Ashkenazi, whose non-Jewish DNA is from a different European population and stopped entering the Jewish gene pool much earlier. This in turn led to discussion as to just what the Nazis, whose anti-Semitism was primarily racial rather than religious, would make of the Gydes. After all, the Nazis largely spared the Karaites, on the grounds they were more akin to Turkic peoples. One board member theorized that the Nazis would view them as "Judaized Germans" rather than racial Jews and try to "deprogram" them rather than exterminate them. This might resemble the German abductions of Polish (and other Slavic) children of ostensibly Aryan ancestry for Germanization.

Sunday, November 3, 2019

BATTLE FOR THE WASTELANDS Is Going Indie (Here's First Phase of Cover)

Although The Thing in the Woods is my first published novel, it is not the first novel I've actually completed. Not counting my two lengthy Harry Potter fan-fics "Wrath of the Half-Blood Prince" and "Lord of the Werewolves" and my rewrite of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen so aptly titled "The Revenge of the Fallen Reboot," my first finished novel is actually Battle for the Wastelands, which can be described as "a post-apocalyptic steampunk military fantasy" or more concisely "Dark Tower meets Game of Thrones."

I completed the novel sometime in 2011-2012 and have been submitting it to different agents and publishers over the years, tinkering with it based on any personalized rejection or commentary I got. This prolonged process (plus an edit by Apex Publications boss Jason Sizemore, who offers extensive freelance services) resulted in a less wordier book--the current draft is 88.5K and the original was 101K. This was accomplished by cutting only words and phrases--not only did I not need to cut anything significant, but even I added a new scene to give the sole female POV character a more solid character arc (overcoming depression).

Unfortunately, the prolonged process meant that its window has likely passed. I was told by a fellow writer that unless one is Cherie Priest, Barnes and Noble isn't stocking steampunk books. This means publishers are not likely to buy them, since Barnes and Noble is the largest brick-and-mortar bookstore. Although Battle is more subtle steampunk--it's more of a military novel that happens to be set in a different world than "all airships all the time"--there's still airships, Babbage engines, etc. Furthermore, the steampunk fandom seems in decline--there're fewer steampunk costumes at conventions, steampunk-focused conventions are trying to expand their offerings, etc. Although one can market Battle without using the dreaded S-word, it has so many steampunk tropes and aspects that big presses are likely to turn up their noses.

Speaking of turnaround time, one publisher was reviewing the book for roughly two years (it made the second round of judging and I think there was some personnel turnover, so I'm not blaming them). Although patience is a virtue, especially if you're an author trying to get a book deal, there aren't a lot of book publishers who'd consider it left at this point. Furthermore, one of the remaining ones I was warned could take a similar amount of time. I finished this book (and a companion novella focused on the main villain's adult son) seven years ago. I'm getting a little tired.

Another big (possibly the biggest) issue with a professional sale is that it's not standalone. The book pretty obviously sets up more battles to come in a way that Thing and my forthcoming Little People, Big Guns do not. I don't have an established track record, so publishers aren't likely to take a chance on what's an obvious series starter. Many readers won't start a series unless it's already done, which a nasty catch-22 that leaves many series unfinished for lack of sales.

Finally, although Battle is a better book for years' worth of tightening, the more concise length also makes it less salable. I've spoken to many people who know what they're talking about who think a fantasy novel should be 100K words if not more. I'd considered adding stuff to pad it out, but that's the key phrase--"pad it out." It will be obvious that stuff was added to meet a word count and the quality would suffer.

So I hired Mr. Sizemore once more for proofreading--and he went above and beyond by answering a lot of my publishing questions--and I commissioned a cover from artist Matt Cowdery, whom I met at DragonCon this past Labor Day. The cover will be completed in stages--here's the first part, which in artist lingo is called a "comp."

The final product will look something like this or this in overall style and detail.

Independently publishing means I'll have to do everything myself, but I listen a lot of writing-related podcasts and know several independent authors in real life. I've got a lot of ideas on what to do, some of which I cite in the next chunk below.