Tuesday, 27 November 2018

Overlord

A few weeks ago, yes I've been a bit busy, I went and saw the film Overlord with a friend of mine. Billed as a WWII horror film, it generated a lot of buzz as it was helmed by a black actor in a WWII film. This, in and of itself, was rather remarkable. Black characters in horror movies have a stereotype of being quickly killed or reduced to secondary characters. With this trend being more reversed in recent years, it was understandable that this film should seem like it would bring something new to the table.

A firm WWII setting seemed like it would generate some good visuals, and theories ranged from Nazi zombies, to something set in the same universe as Cloverfield. With the film being produced by well known sci-fi personality J. J. Abrams, this wasn't an unrealistic probability. Soon we learned it was an independent production.

So did Overlord overwhelm me like Operation Overlord overwhelmed the Nazis?

Well, it mostly did.



The film opens in daylight, and we see that a stunning amount of the CGI budget must have gone towards these opening shots. We get lovingly rendered shots of the invasion fleet moving across the Channel to invade Fortress Europe, as the paratroopers fly overhead towards their objective.

Bear with me here, I'm going to be putting on my pedantic historian's hat a few times. Choosing to blow lots of CGI money on this scene feels really weird. Not only does it not make sense (the paratroopers would have been flying over at night, well in advance of the invasion fleet) but it causes some weird disjointedness in the film's timeline. It really seems like a bizarre waste of money, but ah well.

On the plane our main characters are all progressively introduced. The oft derided and ill thought of Ed Boyce (our black protagonist), the far too talkative Jacob Rosenfeld, the horrendously stereotyped Italian-American Tibbet, the no-nonsense Corporal Ford who is attached to make sure the paratroopers objective goes smoothly, the forgettable Dawson, random photographer Morton Chase  and the strangely compelling Sergeant Eldson.

Boyce is something of an enigma, but comes off as wishy-washy at first. Sgt. Eldson (played by Bokeem Woodbine) comes off as the much more interesting character. Tragically, the movie plays for keeps and the plane is soon blown out of the sky, many of the paratroopers along with it. In a truly well choreographed scene, Boyce is falling until he hits a patch of water and has to cut himself loose. He meets up with Ford, just in time to watch Eldson get whacked by the Nazis. Which is a crying shame, but does show that the film is not going to give anyone any mercy if they can avoid it.

The survivors of the crash landing, Boyce, Ford, Tibbet, Chase, and Dawson, regroup and make towards their objective. A radio tower where the Nazis could call in strikes on the landing beaches.

This motley crew overcomes further horrors of war as Dawson, in an unexpectedly hilarious death scene, steps on a landmine after perfectly finishing a sentence. I have to admit, the accidental punctuation made me laugh uproariously, largely because it was such a scene of unintentional black comedy I couldn't help it.

Despite this, I found the opening a little weak, as the characters meandered around and talked to no real end. It seemed like random explosions intermixed with somewhat pointless dialogue.

Moving on they stumble across a French villager, Chloe, who is scavenging the battlefield, and force her to lead them to the village. There they take cover while accidentally stumbling upon SS Hauptsturmführer (Captain) Wafner. He's actually an amazing villain, with the right amount of sneering Nazi contempt and unbridled violence which will make you love and hate him.

We learn not all is as it seems in this village. It is a radio tower sure, but the Nazis have a strange lab beneath the church where they have been steadily experimenting on the villagers to mysterious ends. Corpses and villagers go in, and only occasionally do diseased people come back out. One of those includes Mathilde's aunt who she keeps separate from her young brother Paul.

From here the movie moves between a somewhat confusing genre of action and horror. In a series of events which I don't think re-watching will explain, Boyce stumbles into the Nazi base by accident while he is supposed to be doing something completely different. Boyce seems to have a horrendous instinct for self preservation which at times made me sure he was going to die. However, it does lead to some of our creepier moments early on in the film.

I say that the genre is confusing because for all the horror elements, most seem to hit the notes of either a spy thriller or a war drama. There is one or two points where the soundtrack assaults your ears to scare you, but nothing in the film ever really made me jump. We have some legitimately creepy visuals in the Nazi labs, and a bizarre scene early in the film where they talk about the decomposing corpse of a 'jackal' but that never leads to anything.

Considering the precise nature of what the Nazis are doing is never really elaborated on, that isn't too surprising.

What did surprise me was how bloody fantastic the effects were. From the blood, to the bullets, and the firefights, it was A-list movie cinematics. All the gunfights were amazingly put together, and the gory effects of those (and the monsters) were gory and great. I was literally clapping during some scenes these fights were so awesome. An amazing scene where Chloe picks up a flamethrower was also well appreciated.

The scenes where the action picks up are what makes the movie shine. Considering the slow opening these intense and visceral scenes make you really appreciate both the actors and the effects. It leads to a climax which is immensely satisfying.

I found the movie good fun, but there were some points I found weird.

First let me put my pedantic historians hat on. At one point Boyce says he was drafted, and that's how he became a paratrooper. Not only is that blatantly false, but its doing a disservice to historic paratroopers who firstly had to volunteer for service, then they had to volunteer for dangerous service, and then had to volunteer for the intense paratrooper training.

Second, I think the film did a greater disservice by making some historical revisions to incoporate Boyce and Eldson into the 101st Airborne. If you've ever seen the amazing HBO drama Band of Brothers you'll know that the 101st Airborne circa 1944, was all white. They were a unit of volunteers famous for being the tip of the spear in the Allied landings. Why the film chooses to do this strikes me as odd, this is especially true because doing some research I discovered there were black paratroopers in WWII, the 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion. Though they did not directly see combat, they were a parachute unit.


The film would have done itself a far better service had it made those men the focus of the film. Cooler still had there been a few survivors who found themselves drafted into the mission against the tower because Ford pulls rank and uses them to accomplish his mission instead of one they were originally assigned. The film would be arguably stronger, the interaction between characters more interesting and the historical revisionism to pull it off slightly better.

Historic pedantry aside, the final shots of the film give us an interesting question. Why didn't the navy shell the bloody church? Or hell, someone just drop a bomb on it? Sure civilian casualties, but if it was so important (and so close to the beach) that wouldn't have saved it from Allied planners. The final shots of the film show the whole village as being really close to the beaches, sending paratroopers was a huge bloody waste here.

That aside there were scenes where the day/night dynamic suffered. The film opens in broad daylight, but minutes later its the middle of the night. There are scenes in Chloe's house where its clearly daytime outside, but then we see the night when they look out. It was a baffling failure in editing. Just goes to show why you don't blow your money showing an invasion fleet.

This all being said, the acting was great,

Jovan Adepo as Boyce really matures into his role. The script left his character flailing, but Adepo did a wonderful job building him up as the film wore on. Mathilde Oliver as Chloe is just badass. She is multilingual (without it feeling forced) and handles herself amazingly in action scenes, and it never feels like she's being molded into a role just for the sake of being a strong female character, she just is a strong female character from start to finish.

Wyatt Russel as Ford is also fantastic. His gritty "gotta-be-bad-as-'em-to-beat-'em" attitude (implied to have been picked up fighting the Nazis in Italy) is well done, with its logical flaws pointed out. His single-minded drive to complete the mission, no matter the cost makes you love and fear him.

John Magaro as Tibbet is really fun, but he plays too much of a stereotyped Italian-American. Almost like the William Guarnere stand in from Band of Brothers. But he is a fun character.

All this being said, I came away really liking the movie. There were enough parts where the action and the characters were simply awesome enough that getting behind them was absurdly easy, and with a villain I loved to hate I couldn't get enough of seeing the SS mowed down. Though the horror elements were weird, I found it engaging.

Despite a slow build up, the film redeems itself in the end and really delivers A-list quality to B-list material. As a fun action flick, this is hard to beat and I will certainly be watching it again.

Saturday, 17 November 2018

Benedict Arnold Gets a Bad Wrap

Perhaps the phrase most synonymous with traitor in the English language after Quisling, is Benedict Arnold. For those of you not in the know, Benedict Arnold was an American general serving in the Continental Army in the Revolutionary War. Now, despite the fact that almost everyone knows Benedict Arnold was a traitor, most cannot quite name what exactly he did.


To give some background, ol Arnold had enlisted early to the Revolutionary cause, and had a particular zeal and charisma about him leading to his appointment to command early in the conflict capturing Fort Ticonderoga. In fact he headed the ill-fated invasion of Quebec, while mounting the delaying action at Valcour Island which slowed the coming British invasion of New York. In 1777 he was instrumental at the Battle of Saratoga where the British force was captured, bringing France into the war. In doing so however, he suffered terrible leg injuries which put him out to the proverbial pasture rather than earning another field command and instead being assigned to command the city of Philadelphia.

However, Arnold was known for getting involved with disputes, most famously with Horatio Gates who actually sacked him during the Saratoga Campaign, only for Arnold to disobey orders and lead attacks on the British anyways. In Philadelphia, he came up against prominent local businessmen and was brought up on charges of embezzlement, though he was eventually acquitted.

It was during this time Arnold married the young Peggy Shippen, who was the daughter of a Loyalist sympathizer. After the marriage he became far more bitter against the Continental Congress, which he felt had unfairly brought charges against him, and passed him over for promotion. It had also heaped praise on his foe, General Gates, for Saratoga, where he had been unfairly sacked.

The exact causes of his decision to betray the Continental Congress are the subject of much speculation, but many believe his smoldering resentment against the Congressional leadership, and his sudden ingratiation with Loyalists through his wife (and a lavish spending style racking up debt) led him to decide to betray his former comrades in arms.

That being said, his whole plan was to surrender West Point to the British. The important fortifications could have significantly altered the balance of the war in New York, but the plan never got off the ground. The British spy carrying the papers which revealed Arnold's plan was captured. Exposed, Arnold fled for his life and despite a brief command with the British Army, he soon retired to London where he would die in 1801.

In sum totality, Arnold's treason did very little to hinder the American cause, and nothing to help the British, costing no American lives. Though arguably his greatest act, was while leading British troops engaging in the massacre of the garrison at Fort Griswold (though whether Arnold is explicitly to blame for that has also been long debated) late in the war. However, this again had no impact on the war overall.

Yet for all this, he is remembered as the greatest traitor in American history. Is that really fair?

I would argue, no.

Even were one to factor in the casualties at Fort Griswold, Arnold did far more to help the Revolutionary cause than he did to hinder it. He was instrumental in a number of significant victories, and comparatively caused more damage to the British. With those considerations in mind his greatest sin seems to be portraying George Washington's trust.

However, let us compare him to a few lesser known, I would argue, greater traitors.

Saturday, 10 November 2018

Remembrance Day 2018

1914-1918

Today 100 years ago, the guns fell silent across the front. On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, the German Empire agreed to an armistice. The Great War, was over. For four years, three months and two weeks the greatest war the world had yet seen has raged across the face of the globe. From Europe, Asia, Africa, to South America, the war has been fought. The Central Powers have collapsed, and the Entente has won, but at great cost.

The fighting though, is not completely over. In Russia, a brutal civil war between Communist and anti-Communist forces rages on, and will do so into the next decade. Post war skirmishes between the new nations carved out from the corpses of old powers are springing up, and revolution is in the air in Germany and the former Hapsburg Empire.

However, for the Entente powers, the war is won. All that has to be decided now, is the peace.

Today, I remember the service of my own ancestors. Most specifically, William Schoular, my great grandfather. He fought with the Canadian Corps across the fields of France and recently I was able to view letters he wrote during the war.

These small memories and pieces of personal history are always fascinating, and these little looks into my own family history will allow me years of study on the subject.

Let us remember though, even though one great war ended 100 years ago, the fighting around the world rages on today. Canadians are still giving their lives on foreign battlefields, whether to keep the peace, or fight terrorism, they fight to protect us and others.

We should not, cannot, forget the sacrifice of those who came before us, or those who even now lay down their lives for our freedoms. Take a moment today to remember the brave men and women who have fought and bled for us, and if you can, thank a veteran.

Lest we forget.

Monday, 29 October 2018

Writing Update: October 2018

As October draws to a close, I have sadly fallen behind on one of my writing goals. That is to finish and prepare a small omnibus of spooky stories for sale on Amazon Kindle. That's not to say it will never happen, but it won't be reaching its Halloween release date.

Sad as that is, it may be for the best at the moment.

The first story (available for free already on my blog) the Disappearance of Wilson would be on there, while the other two stories I am working on would also be present. Those two are Priests of the White God and Finiphobia.

Priests is a fantasy horror thriller set on the high seas as things are not quite what they seem. The crew of Isidore's Pride flee from the oppressors in the Empire who seek to hunt them down and slaughter them. Their cargo may just save their whole nation, and if it doesn't arrive in time, who knows what could happen? Presently at 4,556 words of 10,000.

Second is Finiphobia. When the world ends, writer Ralph Macintosh thinks he's the last living man in Lanark Falls. Fortunately for him, he stumbles upon Chuck Duncan who is hiding out in the local highschool. The two begin writing the first post-apocalyptic published literature to pass the time, however, disagreements over how the story should end soon take place. Becoming increasingly paranoid of one another, the two men soon discover that they may not have to worry about the infection outside as much as the jealousy inside. Currently at 2,678 words.

Those two stories have been distracted from by work on other short stories, but now I'm aiming to polish them off for perhaps a New Years release, while working on other shorts to pitch around. I can't say much about the other shorts just yet, but I can say I intend to send them off and update you more once they're closer to completion.

Until then, I hope to update you soon on the work I'm attempting and to keep offering fun little other updates on here. Hopefully you'll stick around for more of my work and the blog! Until next time!

Sunday, 28 October 2018

Day By Day Armageddon

Well for my latest review, I'm going to take you back to a simpler time when zombies were all the rage, and they weren't the stars of AMC's The Walking Dead and the White Walkers weren't threatening to cross the Wall. Instead they were simply coming to eat you from the safety of your own living room.

In that vein Day By Day Armageddon should be considered a classic of the zombie literary genre.


This story by J.L. Bourne is presented in diary format, much like Dracula, but with only one POV. Here we enter into the world of one Kil, a former US military aviator who decides to keep a comprehensive journal as a New Years resolution. This is fortunate because he's just in time to chronicle the end of the world.

Reports begin to emerge of a mysterious virus ravaging the population in China. Though the government tries to hush it up, it soon becomes clear that the virus is very contagious, and extremely deadly to all who catch it. The infected become violent and hostile, attacking the uninfected and... well you can see where this is going can't you?

Kil begins chronicling the outbreak from the comfort of his own home in San Antonio, where he does his best to hunker down and ride out the storm. Unfortunately, he begins to see that society at large is starting to fall apart and as the disease breaks containment, he must begin an epic saga of survival, chronicling it all in his journal. He does this so if he dies someone will know what happened, and so he can remain sane.

That's great for us since we wouldn't have a story otherwise!

The first person narrative gives us a great window inside Kil's head as he struggles to come to terms with a world gone literally to hell around him. He has difficulty adjusting to a world gone mad, and the fact that he has to deal with the dead trying to eat him on a daily basis. Seeking just a little bit of humanity he is lucky, encountering other survivors and working together with them in order to survive the total breakdown of the end of the world. From his enigmatic neighbor John, to other survivors and families he meets along the way, even a dog.

Unable to simply, stay put, he bugs out in order to try and get as far away from a high concentration of the undead as possible. This sets us on a journey across the apocalyptic wasteland which was once the United States, one now ravaged by the zombie apocalypse, and a desperate fight against the zombie hordes by surviving military forces trying to reclaim the American continent from the dead.

One thing I like about the story is that the first person narrative gives us an excellent look into the narrator's state of mind. You feel what he feels, and you see things from his, and only his, point of view throughout the story. The fear is real as he relates escapes from near death, and we feel for his companions as it becomes clear at any moment that they could be eaten. The creepy events he experiences stick with you, and it is chilling reading about his early encounters with the undead.

While it is a central conceit the author survive's if we're reading this journal...that's not a guarantee. Considering the number of other doomed survivors whose logs we come across, it's a scary possibility the story could just pick up from someone else's point of view as they come across his last will and testament. But thankfully the author doesn't shuffle off his mortal coil. In this book at least.

Bourne does a great job of showing the collapse of society. From falling satellites to failing power grids, we feel it as the world we know just falls apart. The internet fails, news broadcasts simply cease, and our ability to interact with our fellow man falls by the wayside as the dead isolate us more thoroughly than we can imagine. With little vignettes of the end of the world scattered throughout (encountering a zombified hiker walking the highway eternally in a thunderstorm, an undead infant in a car seat, a humorous message on a bloody apron, ect.) we get chilling insights into how the world has simply collapsed. Many of which, though we may have questions about them, we will never know the answer to what happened.

That paints a haunting picture of a world where mankind is no longer the dominate species. Eternally on the run from the new top predator and outnumbered millions to one.

Despite this, the story still gives us reason to hope. The protagonists stumble from one place of safety to the next, managing to find some measure of community and solace. They look out for one another and protect each other (none of the typical backstabbing and murder drama that punctuates the almost predictable Walking Dead series) and we even see that some semblance of the US government is around and trying to protect people.

Yeah the world is ending, but people can still be people. Good ones at that.

The zombie killing is fun, and to me killing zombies never gets old. Maybe not as creative with the wanton destructive as some stories, it still reads well and it is nice to see some more practical methods of dead dispatching versus over the top gore fests. We also get some fun revelations that the zombies are not quite just undead automatons, but the whole how and why of this armageddon is a treat the reader should enjoy for themselves.

Mr. Bourne also knows his stuff quite well. He presents Kil's story as one of a man who is used to prepping, and so that shines through. From lists of supplies and ammunition, to drawings and doodles that map out his current location. He also avoids the common trope in this type of fiction of waxing poetically about firearms and their different calibers and whatever, instead distilling things down to the practical level making it a quick and easy read.

Now I was lucky enough to buy this in a two book pack which contains both the first novel, and its sequel Beyond Exile which continues the story. There are two further installments after that, and I think all of them keep things going quite nicely.

Reading this book in October has become a sort of Halloween tradition for me, combining my love of the zombie genre with some fun spooks. I think that if you like a good novel, and even if you're tired of zombies, its worth picking up just to enjoy it!

Sunday, 21 October 2018

Bram Stoker's Dracula

Since it is that spooky time of year, I'd like to review a film near to my heart. Yes readers, I'm here to talk about Francis Ford Coppola's Bram Stoker's Dracula! This film is based on the 1897 novel Dracula by...well obviously by Bram Stoker. The film though, plays a little fast and loose with the narrative and is, by the by, rather more hilarious than scary in my opinion.

So why do I like this movie so much? Well precisely because it is so funny.



Opening in 1462 in Wallachia, we see Prince Vlad Dracula (wearing the absolute weirdest armor I've ever seen on screen), leading his forces against the invading Ottoman Empire. It takes place in a weird shadow puppetry sequence, where most of what happens is hidden in shadow. I guess saves the budget on a big battle scene. He has just been married to his one true love Elisabeta. However, upon his victory the Turks send her false news of his death, in grief she kills herself and Vlad, enraged at priests telling him because she committed suicide her soul is damned, renounces his faith and stabs the crucifix. Oddly, it bleeds literal blood, lots of it, and he drinks it, attaining his evil immortality.

So that's how you make a deal with the devil.

Sunday, 14 October 2018

And Then There Were None

As it is Halloween, I've been pursuing some spooky reads in my spare time and just plowed through the delightfully suspenseful Agatha Christie novel, And Then There Were None. Originally published in 1939, it became Agatha Christie's most popular novel and one of the best selling novels of all time with over 100 million copies published.

The set up is deliciously simple. Ten strangers are invited to the mansion of an eccentric millionaire in August at some point in the 1930s. While they do not know each other, they have all been contacted by an acquaintance knowing details about their lives, little do they know that this is no ordinary acquaintance. The mansion, set on the foreboding and isolated Indian Island, is the most modern in Britain, with all the comforts of home one could ask for off the coast of Devon. As they arrive, queer things begin to take shape, as no one understands quite how they've all gotten there.

Quaint as the mansion is, they are all struck by the strangeness of their situation, with a mysterious poem involving Ten Little Indians enshrined above each of their beds. Soon however, they are all confronted with horrible secrets from their pasts, and it becomes clear everyone there is hiding something. Worst of all, one of them may be a killer.


Now obviously, I cannot tell much more without fear of spoilers, but I must say that the story is set up very compellingly. With all the dark secrets each character holds, and their unique traits and individual sins you have both a hard time sympathizing with them, but getting to know them you begin to hope they don't die. It's a clever and ghoulish idea when you get down to it.

Christie does a bang up job of capturing the isolation and desperation the characters feel as the dread inevitable begins to set in. They have no way off the island, no way to contact the outside world, and no idea who is stalking them in their tiny prison.

As well, the growing paranoia and desperation amongst the characters is fascinating to watch. Otherwise reasonable individuals become hysterical, and murmuring, plotting, and suspicion set in as it becomes clear no one can be trusted. Despite thin veneers of polite civility, as their numbers dwindle, those imprisoned on the island cannot help but turn on and to each other in hope of safety.

Exploring the increasingly desperate psyches of these guilty persons as they each end up coming out about their own pasts is fascinating. The struggle to survive and the hope of getting off the island will ensure that readers are sucked in and tear through this piece. It's a psychological thriller at its finest, and one which I would highly recommend to anyone who loves the genre.

The ending of course, has a fantastic twist, one which more astute readers may figure out early on. I can assure you though, you will find it very satisfying and spooky.

Though the original title Ten Little N---ers is deemed (correctly) far too offensive for today's market, it is apropos of the time period it was written, and anyone seeing copies with that title should't balk it just for that. In spite of that, the book has become Christie's best selling work and her most adapted, even above those of the venerable Hugo Poirot. With a genuinely unique mystery and setting that will strain the reader who attempts to figure it out, its no wonder it has sold so well for decades. The most modern adaption is the 2015 BBC version, which for those who haven't read the book and prefer to watch, I would recommend for its amazing cast and closeness to the original novel.

Until next time, be wary of accepting strange invitations to fantastic locations!

Saturday, 22 September 2018

The Darkness and the Light

On Friday, the Ottawa-Gatineau region was hit by a tornado. This storm knocked out power to a huge swathe of the city (including where I live) for over 24 hours in some places. When the power was out, I originally sat in the dark with nothing but a candle and my dying laptop for light wanting to conserve my phone's battery life. Becoming chilled and hungering for actual warm food, I ventured forth to examine how severe the power outage was.

The lights were out all over the place. Journeying up my now unfamiliar street in the dark, I discovered that the buildings, the street lights, traffic lights, and it seemed even emergency lights in most buildings had been knocked out. Cars were navigating dangerously using only their drivers' judgement and flashing headlights and honked horns. The fact that many drivers judgement was rather poor was borne out by the constant sound of sirens in the background and a few emergency vehicles passing me on the street.

People, unused to such a consuming darkness, were using their cellphones to light the streets in front of them. The ground was so dark (or shadowed by passing cars and obstructing buildings) that they couldn't see where their feet were going! The moonlight was occasionally enough to see by, when the traffic died down at least.

What was astounding though, was that the stars shone brightly through the departing clouds and the full moon was out for all to see! Stars normally washed out by the light pollution of the city sparkled, and the moon was gloriously full. It cast a waning light, often cut by the highbeams of cars but looking lovely nontheless.

I was struck by how beautiful it looked, the dark city and the bright moon. It was something interesting in contrast, shadows and light. I don't think I'll forget just how much it exposed our reliance on our artificial stars to light the night and how it exposed most of us to a darkness we aren;t used to dealing with.

For me though, it showed just how beautiful even that darkness can be.

Monday, 17 September 2018

Peppermint

Jennifer Garner, the darling of the rom-com and one of the most known actresses of the 90s and early 2000s, has been off the radar for some time. However, recently I was surprised to hear about her hopeful comeback in this years bloody film, Peppermint. In it she plays a grieving widow whose husband has been gunned down for even considering to steal from cartel boss, Diego Garcia. In a world of corrupt cops and amoral lawyers, she decides she must take justice in her own hands when her daughter is gunned down with him.

Does this bloody tale of revenge serve up a nice cold dish?


Well, it serves it lukewarm.

For starters, the story hits a lot of familiar notes that people will be familiar with in a revenge flick. Heck, if you saw 2007's The Brave One or even Kill Bill, you'll be getting all the right notes. Family/lover dies, woman trains/applies training to extract bloody vengeance on her tormentors. She's possibly amoral, unstable, and definitely going against the law. Responsible authority figures who have tried to help but failed try to stop her, things get messy, and the blood flows.

Thematically there really isn't much to differentiate it from any other vigilante film. Cinematography wise, its nothing to write home about. The direction is capable, and there's a blessed lack of shaky-cam to infect the screen, and all the action looks good. Its nothing ground breaking, but is certainly serviceable for some blood and gore.

Few of the characters really stand out. Garner's character is, after the first act, mostly a silent protagonist speaking only a little to utter threats, grunt in pain, or some combination of the two. The other characters, mainly John Gallagher Jr.'s Detective Cairmaichal, John Ortiz's Detective Moises Beltran and Juan Raba's Diego Garcia are mostly one note characters. While Cairmaichal and Moises have a bit of an onscreen competition for who gets to be the corrupt cop, Garcia is just a villain who is out to show how villainous he is. That's about all there is to it.

Garner though, does a creditable job showing she can be a badass. Her action is done well, and she clearly worked to get in shape for this role and learn the movements of someone who knows cage fighting, tactical shooting and infiltration. She pulls off the mindless revenge seeker well, and even manages to be over the top cruel without seeming too unsympathetic to the viewer.

However, the film plays up the grieving mother angle without any real twist or subtlety. In a moment where we see her with the villain cornered, we get a sudden twist that he has a daughter and so she can't kill him! The daughter of course, was never referenced before, and disappears from the narrative and her own thought process shortly after. A one time distraction that doesn't effect the plot and really served no purpose. Does the idea of taking away someone else's family disturb her? Does she want to 'free' this daughter from a criminal father? Or any other motivation that being haunted by a dead daughter? Nope. Just a one second cop out.

She also hallucinates her dead daughter a lot. Whether it be in near prophetic warnings or timely scenes which serve to remind the viewer why she's suddenly balls out for revenge. The visions of dead daughter are mostly left-field, they haven't happened before, and it doesn't seem like there's a great reason for them happening here. It seems as though they are only obligatory for the 'dead child and revenge' story we're being told.

Some secondary plots and dialogue, conversations amongst Detective's Cairmaichal and Moises about 'Bigfoot' and Cairmaichal maybe being attracted to the FBI agent introduced partially into the second act, don't go anywhere. There's the idea that Cairmaichal may be trying to shift the heat off Garner's character, but that doesn't go anywhere either. Really all these secondary points seem like something picked up by the writer, and then they never really decide what to do with it.

Overall, the film feels less like a big reboot for Garner's career, and more like a film of the times. In her March 2018 article What the New Wave of Female Vigilante Films Says About the #MeToo Movement Emily Yoshida states "And so it seems fitting, if coincidental, that at a time when innumerable sexual harassment and assault allegations have tarnished [Harvey] Weinstein’s legacy, female vigilantes are back on the big screen with a literal vengeance." So it seems, if recent films like Jennifer Lawrence's Red Sparrow or even the new Tomb Raider film are a way for female actors (and their watchers) to punch back at the male dominated establishment, while entertaining us with some excellent popcorn along the way.

Punching, Garner delivers in spades. Along with shooting, kicking, and stabbing her opponents, she is merciless in her crusade for revenge. While by no means an intellectual,  particularly thrilling, or even original film, it is one you can crunch some popcorn watching.

While I doubt Peppermint will ever be on anyone's all time favorite movie list, it may entertain you for a few hours at least. A film of the times maybe, but I can't say it is much beyond that. If anything, it will show Julia Garner's still has game, and maybe we will be seeing her pull of some bigger punches in the future.

Monday, 10 September 2018

Six Series I'm Watching For

Recently, there has been a spate of buying rights to old novels and properties in preparation for turning them into live action adaptations. Things like Fahrenheit 451 are getting feature films, even Larry Niven's Ring World is being optioned for television.

Though there's over 40 sci-fi and fantasy series being optioned for film and television, here's six I'm personally watching:

1) The Dark Tower


Stephen King's long running fantasy/western series has entertained and thrilled readers since The Gunslinger was released in 1982. This gunslingling fantasy epic runs between numerous parallel worlds all trying to save the eponymous tower from the machinations of the Man in Black and his overlord, The Crimson King.

Most recently this series deserved some much deserved hype when the 2017 film premiered. Unfortunately it only premiered to mixed reviews and didn't thrill hardcore fans. Despite some amazing action scenes and good performances, the movie failed to live up to some people's expectations. Now though, it may receive some new life on the small screen.

Though there have been rumblings about it being picked up on Amazon, so far the series remains in development hell, and little concrete has moved forward or been announced. But if this series does go forward, as an American classic, it needs to be watched out for.

2) Y: The Last Man

This series is going to be adapted from the amazing comic series Y: The Last Man, in which all animals with the Y chromosome are wiped out simultaneously by a mysterious plague. All that is, except for one man named Yorick Brown and his pet monkey Ampersad. Along the way they are pursued by rogue government operatives, cultists, and ninja.

Its an exciting series, and full of fun visual imagery and lots of mystery regarding how the plague came about. In April it was confirmed that FX would be picking up the series and had put forward a formal order for a pilot episode. A cast list was recently released, which means that, happily, this series is moving forward.

3) Lovecraft Country

A recent novel by Matt Ruff the story focuses on Atticus Turner and his search for his missing father across 1954 Jim Crow America. Teaming up with his friend Letitia and his Uncle George they set off across the nation dodging not only the all to real horrors of racist America, but the unknown horrors lurking in the shadows all around them.

With stellar reviews, I unfortunately have not read this novel yet (it's on my reading list for October) it is clear that this will be an excellent series. It has been picked up by HBO, with Jordan Peele and J. J. Abrams as producers. Principle casting is complete, so apparently all we are waiting on now is a release date.

If this brings Lovecraftian horror into the fore, and hopefully allows for some adaptions of the work of that master of horror himself, I couldn't be happier.

4) The Witcher


Andrzej Sapkowski’s amazing fantasy series, and its fantastic video game adaptation, have enthralled readers and gamers for twi decades now. Their popularity, despite appearing in only Polish and then being translated to English, is practically unprecedented. The series has taken off in popularity since then, almost rivaling A Song of Ice and Fire in terms of cult classic.

Following Geralt of Rivia, a Witcher, who hunts monsters while being swept up in grand political intrigues effecting an entire continent. Known for some ugly and humorous spins on traditional fantasy genres, it often goes into gruesome details about the more unsavory aspects of living in a medieval world. There's also a lot of hilarious innuendo being thrown around both in the game and the books.

The series has been picked up for distribution by Netflix and is currently in the preliminary stages. Script writing, shooting locations, and one important casting decision with Henry Cavill (of Superman fame) to play Geralt. Though not yet ready for premier, it is assumed we will be seeing this show on Netflix come 2020.

5) Halo


For fans of action packed sci-fi, any adaptation of the hit video game series would be welcome. With numerous comics, books, and one current live action short, a full film or television adaptation has been a long time coming. There have been rumors of a film adaptation for years, going back over a decade with Peter Jackson at one time slated to direct.

However, most projects have been scrapped, or been consigned to development hell. However, apparently Showtime is producing a for television adaptation under the direction of Kyle Killen. It is slated for premier in 2020. Will this adaptation get off the ground, or will it crash and burn like the Covenant? Only time will tell.

6) The Wheel of Time


Finally, the biggest fantasy series for many, even putting A Song of Ice and Fire to shame, with a sprawling 14 books and massive canon and characters, we have the Wheel of Time. Chronicling the stories of three ta'veren (individuals who twist the Pattern, or literally the tapestry of life around them) who are caught up in an epic struggle against the Dark One. One of them is the Dragon Reborn, destined to lead the world to the Last Battle and break the world as we know it.

Epic in every sense, from the scale of the story, the intrigue, the battles, the magic, it is truly amazing.

Now though, Amazon seems to be hoping to turn it into a new Game of Thrones franchise. This is, in my opinion, a wise choice. With a massive fan base going back through the 1990s, and sometimes crossing over with the fans of the modern fantasy master Brandon Sanderson, it has a built in audience which may drive its success.

Although there are, as yet, no scripts or casting choices, it may be a while until we hear anything definitive on a project this big. While there was a truly convoluted legal battle with the rights to the series, that Amazon is picking up the series seems certain. Where it will go from here, who can say?

So these are the series I am watching in the coming years with their adaptations to the small screen (or big screen). I'm looking forward to all of these. With some solid casting choices, and some solid talent behind their creation, we can count on these to be fun for the sci-fi/fantasy community.

Wednesday, 29 August 2018

Hang on a Minute: A Discussion of Execution

Recently, I found myself in the oddest discussion. At work I began talking about hangings with someone after we had been discussing the punishments of the earlier eras. How exactly the conversation got to this point I'll never know, but suddenly we were discussing hangings.

The concept of execution by hanging has been around for centuries. It is still the go to method of vigilante mobs, and the method of execution in Japan (where in July the plotter of the Tokyo Subway attacks was executed). In concept it is remarkably simple. In its more 'scientific' form, the condemned is dropped from a height calculated to break their neck and kill them instantly. In its simplest form, it chokes off the airways of an individual via strangulation. Either way, absent intervention, you're dead.


These kinds of executions were often carried out in public, and are a staple of films for just that reason. From the classic Clint Eastwood Westerns, Pirates of the Caribbean, to the oldest films first made. Heck, the last public execution in the United States was in 1936, the execution of Rainey Bethea in Kentucky, drawing a crowd of 20,000.

Public executions were common spectacles. Going as far back as society itself to show the power of the state. They were seen, apparently commonly, as a macabre form of entertainment. It was an interesting dual purpose in keeping the masses happy and showing the power of the state in one event. An interesting example in Canada is the execution of Patrick Whelan in 1869 at Ottawa. He was accused of killing Thomas D'Arcy McGee, and it is almost undeniable he was railroaded through a trial aimed purely at establishing his guilt. Some 5,000 people turned out to watch his execution.

It is interesting that, in my hometown of Perth Ontario, we also had a series of public hangings.

The story I am the most familiar with is the hanging of Thomas Easby in 1829. Easby, whose wife and four children were found dead in the charred remains of their log cabin. Only one child survived, and with rumors flying that Easby had killed his family, he was promptly adopted by a neighboring family. The story goes that the child would beat dolls and say "This is what daddy did to mommy" or when seeing a fire built, remark something similar. This led to Easby's arrest.

He was tried and convicted, and finally sentenced to death. It led to a public holiday in Perth allegedly "Schools were closed, work of all kinds suspended, and settlers came from all parts of the District, bringing with them their families to witness an event which it was hoped would have a great moral influence on the community." There was a sort of carnival atmosphere I have read, and many brought picnics to witness the spectacle.

The second public hanging took place in 1851, when Francis Beare was hung in front of the court house. Apparently many 'well dressed females' were in attendance for this killing. It seems as though people were eager to see justice done. Though it is mentioned there was less of a carnival atmosphere at this execution.

Now, what I did not know, was that the last execution in Perth took place in 1910, though it was not public. Rufus Weedmark was convicted of strangling his wife in 1910, and sentenced to hang. Since public executions were now no longer allowed, he was hanged inside the confines of the county jail. Apparently a 'great crowd' gathered around the jail, but could not see anything.

These are the only hangings that took place in Perth, but at no point did they fail to draw a crowd.

It is interesting that we are drawn to such grizzly spectacles, and that we can find so much fascination in reading about them. Now, not everyone does, as the woman I was having this conversation with felt that it was rather ghastly and moved on from it. Maybe we are heading away from such fascination with it.

However, considering I've just written this piece pondering on the subject of hangings, and you're reading it...maybe not.

Tuesday, 21 August 2018

Retro Review: Kagemusha

Set in feudal Japan in the sengoku jidai period, Kagemusha follows the story of the Takeda clan as they battle with the fearsome warlords Tokugawa Ieyasu and Oda Nobunaga. It is a story revolving around the historical drama leading to the end of that particular struggle. Those familiar with history will know how it ends from the start. For those without knowledge of it, I will refrain from any spoilers of the ending.

The story is a jidaigeki film (literally period drama) directed by acclaimed Japanese film director Akira Kurosawa of Seven Samurai fame. It won the Palme d'Or at the 1980 Cannes film festival, and was nominated for other awards.


Our story here opens with the daimyo of the Takeda clan, Takeda Shingen, and his brother, Takeda Nobukado, looking at a condemned criminal who bears an uncanny resemblance to the daimyo. It is decided, that despite his insolent nature, they will keep the criminal alive to act as the daimyo's body double in time of need. He becomes, the kagemusha. Meanwhile, the Takeda are engaged in a battle with Tokugawa Ieyasu, one of Nobunaga's prime supporters. Shingen, feeling that the fall of the castle is imminent, travels to oversee the siege. While watching the siege one night he is shot and mortally wounded by a sniper.

Despite being on the cusp of victory, Shingen orders a withdrawal of his forces. Nobukado is able to maintain the ruse by posing as his brother, but realizes this is a failing strategy. Shingen gathers his closest generals and allies, including his son Katsuyori, and orders that if he dies, the clan cannot be allowed to fall to the plans of their enemies. He orders that they must stay neutral for three years in order to recuperate. Dying from his wounds, Nobukado orders the thief to be used as a body double to fool the clans enemies. Meanwhile, his foes ponder on what this sudden change of strategy in the Takeda clan means.

This deception will not be easy. The thief is uncouth, ill educated, and does not know the ways of the noble families. He will have to fool Shingen's allies and family, as well as dealing with the bitterness of Katsuyori, as he fumes at being unable to take his rightful place at the head of the clan. His enemies too are on the lookout for anything that undermines the clans position.

At its heart, Kageshuma is a family drama. It revolves almost solely around the issues affecting the Takeda clan, the internal family, and its struggle to survive. Nobukado tries to keep the wishes of his brother in place while protecting the clan, while Katsuyori is struggling to understand his role in his father's plan, all the while feeling as though he has been slighted through his fathers death and delayed inheritance. The thief himself must navigate the world of concubines while preventing the old lord's son from discovering he is an impostor.

The film itself is a visual spectacle though. Medieval Japan is brought to life in costuming, scenery, and battle through the use of well dressed extras, amazing costumes, and fascinating battle scenes. The work has clearly been done in bringing this era of history to life, and you see that in the little scenes where men are relaxing, and the scenes where soldiers clash on screen.

The small actions of the actors might be baffling to those unfamiliar with Japanese dramas, but the way they use subtle facial expressions and motions to portray events are amazing in my opinion. If you're even remotely familiar with Japanese culture you will get a pure joy from seeing how the movie turns out.

However, if you aren't familiar with Japanese drama, history, and culture, this may be a difficult movie for you. If you don't like movies with subtitles, that is doubly so.

Personally, knowing the history, I enjoyed the film and what it has to offer. As a historical drama it is excellent, and I think it should be applauded for how well it captures the era. The work that has gone into the costumes, the set design, and the appreciation for the culture is amazing. It is worthy of any awards it was nominated for. The film was spectacular.

All in all, this is an excellent historical piece. I recommend giving it a watch even once to truly appreciate some of the fantastic imagery we owe Japan, and to get an understanding of Japanese culture.

Saturday, 11 August 2018

Submission!

After a few days of editing, and getting the word count to 22,133, I have finally submitted my short story Integration to Tor. Now, they say that the proofreading process will take up to six months due to the sheer volume of submissions so I don't expect any news until at least February 2019. Either way, this is an exciting time for me as I submit my first story to an actual publishing company.

Then in all likelihood receive my first rejection letter!

But I'm happy, and I think this will be a good first step into the industry. Hopefully you'll see this story in print sometime!


Friday, 3 August 2018

Writing Update: Integration

Today, at precisely 9:04 AM, I typed the words "THE END" onto the first draft of my recent manuscript. My sci-fi short story Integration is now complete. For the last month and a half, I've been hammering away at this story almost every day. As of completion, this draft numbers 21,767 words over 51 pages.

Some of you might be wondering why I've said so little about this, or decided to only now make an announcement. Well the reason is simple, ever since last October when I penned off my piece of flash fiction The Disappearance of Wilson I've been hammering out other short stories either for practice, or for hopeful submissions to publishing houses. In creating this story I had set for myself a goal of writing at least 20,000 words, and I had determined not to say anything about it until I actually properly finished the piece. Now that is done.

Now I am excited to share with you my sci-fi short Integration and my plans for it. I had already been punting around in my head a story set on Earth far in the future, but not one that dealt with the difficulty of adapting to a new life. Reading the story, The Hummingbird decided the issue for me.

Writing this was a challenge to complete a work by a deadline and now I have completed the first part, and now I will be submitting it to beta readers while editing the first draft. It is for submission to the Tor slush pile which opened to accept short stories of between 20,000 - 40,000 words in the science fiction and fantasy categories. My goal is to have a complete and edited submission forwarded in the next ten days.

The story itself is following Faisal Williams, who has settled on the edge of the badlands in Old Texas. He has a troubling past, and it seems to be creeping up on him. Meanwhile, he deals with internal conflict over his religious views and the struggles of his one good friend, a recovering soldier, with nightmares of his own past. They all collide one night in Texas and Faisal must make a fateful choice.

With this story submission I will be making my first submission to a professional publishing house. While I don't expect much to come of it, it will be an accomplishment to have this story complete, and submitted to someone.

I'm told this process will take over six months, so it will be a while between submission and any news of progress on this story. Until then, the early draft is finished, and now for the editing to commence!

Other news revolves around two other stories I'm working on, with the intention of self publishing in October.

The first is called Priests of the White God set in a fantasy world where a nautical chase takes place between two factions. However, things are far darker than a simple naval action on the high seas as both parties become desperate.

The second is called Finiphobia. Two authors are trapped in a high school during an outbreak of a terrible epidemic, and to pass the time collaborate on a story between them. Jealousy and paranoia however, begin to take hold among them as they disagree on how to complete their story.

Hopefully I can have more regular updates for you on those stories as the next month progresses. In the meantime, the editing commences in a pell mell rush to meet the submission deadline!

So until next time!

Sunday, 29 July 2018

Those R&R Days

On Thursday I had an absolutely lovely day doing nothing. Now, to some people that may sound awful as I'm supposed to be writing or working, or doing whatever it is twenty-something Canadians do in the summer when our igloos melt. However, much has been happening in my professional and personal life that makes a day spent doing nothing a pure joy.

Many of you older folks may know what I'm talking about already. Days where you don't have to be rushing around or double checking things. Days when you're not really expected to do something and can just do, well, whatever.

Personally, I chose to spend that time with someone I'm rather fond of, while also taking time to expand my reading list and add more weight to my bookshelves. Adding to that realizing I also need a new bookshelf before my existing one collapses or I completely run out of floor space. Walking room is a must after all.

But I was extremely lucky to spend some time in the beautiful city I call home. After days of rain and humidity the weather was near perfect. We were able to go out and sit in the sun and do some much needed R&R (Reading and Relaxation) then move on to grab some delicious lunch at a cantina in the Byward Market. While perusing that in lovely weather, we next got to go and sit at the balcony of the Copper Spirits and Sights rooftop establishment in Ottawa. There we simply had drinks and read. There was something fun about just sitting, drinking, and reading while seeing people who knew there was a two hour wait for one of those coveted balcony seats.


If that doesn't tell you timing is everything I don't know what will.

Alas some brief, but bad, weather did come our way and drive us from our rooftop perch. However, we both got home and sat quietly for the evening, watching some fun documentaries on the hidden killers in British homes throughout history.

All in all, it was a relaxing day I wouldn't have wanted to spend any other way.

Wednesday, 18 July 2018

Lovecraft's Run

For some odd reason, every summer I find myself caught up in a craving for Lovecraft's scary stories. One would think this would be more reasonable over the fall months or on Halloween. Strange as it is that the sun and the water draw me to tales of Eldritch horror and forgotten forbidden lore, I do enjoy sitting up late at night and reading his terrifying works. Last summer that was how I was able to, in a single sitting, pound out my Lovecraftian horror short The Disappearance of Wilson and I intend to make a stab at another story like that. However, I'm just going to reminisce on some of the stories I have particularly enjoyed and managed to have keep me up over the summer.

Pickman's Model

This was in fact, the first Lovecraft story which ever gave me a nightmare. The story revolves around a reclusive and unusual artist (Robert Pickman) who creates macabre imagery of half-man half-dog creatures who rummage through the underworld. The storyteller relates the news of getting Pickman to tell him how he came up with such terrible ideas and learning an awful truth regarding the author's influence.

I read this one on a cottage trip, and it was part of my inspiration for my own short story. Imagining the wild north of Ontario and what it may hide was a great creepy dream and the waking nightmare of Pickman's creatures lurking on the steps to drag me off to the unknown inspired me to hammer this gem out.

The Call of Cthulu

If you have not heard of this story you clearly don't know your Lovecraft. Written in the summer of 1926 it was published in February 1928 in the Weird Tales magazine. It is a story revolving around the discovery and perusal of a deceased academics papers relating to a mysterious and gruesome statue and idol confiscated during a police raid in Louisiana. From there it branches out into a sinister tale of an almost apocalypse (in every sense of the word) as the confluence of unlikely events leads a horrible revelation that would drive any man to despair.

This is perhaps, Lovecraft's most well known work, with Cthulu being the creature most associated with Lovecraftian fiction. His cephalopod visage has graced the covers of many books and drawings, and even the nightmares of some! I personally have a picture of him hanging over my bed to ward off nightmares. The story is dark and exciting, with elements of mystery and penny dreadful thrillers, making it entertaining reading from any angle!

The Whisperer in the Darkness

This particular story was one much discussed by a coworker and I years ago. Involving shambling horrors from beyond the stars, it was one which made much hay over the discovery of Pluto back in the day. A researcher at Miskatonic University is contacted by a reclusive professor who, in response to reports of eerie creatures seen floating in the rivers following a period of intense flooding. The professor passes on undeniable truth regarding other worldly origins of these strange creatures, and over time, begins to feel the strain as they besiege his home.

Told largely through a series of correspondence and personal memoirs, it ratchets up the tension over time as the revelations unfold and the academics step steadily closer to madness from the revelations of what they have discovered. Truly a great short read.

The Beast of the Bosporus

This Lovecraftian tale, not written by Lovecraft, but in a delightfully similar vein, takes us out of Lovecrat's usual setting of rural New England, to the world of the 16th Century Ottoman Empire. Having lost the Battle of Lepanto, the Sublime Porte is looking for a way to strike back at the Spanish who have 'singed their beard.' In it we see palace intrigue, terrifying encounters, and a truly epic conclusion regarding powers that should not be tampered with.

Seeing it all done in a place where you don't really expect Lovecraftian horror makes it so much more interesting.

I have talked about it before, and you can find it in Digital Fantasy Fiction Anthology: Uncommon Senses.

Now these are just a small sampling of Lovecraft's works you can find, and one that is a very delightful example of switching up the location of these eldritch horrors! If people are looking for some timeless reads they should definitely check out the works of Lovecraft and his modern successors.

Tuesday, 10 July 2018

Retro Review: The Ten Commandments

Personally, I am an old movie buff. Even though old movies acting and effects are nowhere near what we can put on the screen today, they still tell excellent stories and gives a glimpse into the world as it was way back then. This is part of the reason I tend to appreciate them so much as compared to some modern films which don't do the era they are set in justice I think.

Recently, I was able to watch the 1956 classic The Ten Commandments on Netflix.


That film is epic, which tells not only its own innovative story of the Exodus, but is epic in scope and scale of story telling regarding the life of Moses, Pharaoh, and the Israelites. It also draws influence from novels like Dorothy Clark Wilson's Prince of Egypt, Joseph Ingraham's Pillar of Fire, and On Eagle's Wings by Arthur Eustace Southton. Not only that, it draws on historical sources like Philo's Life of Moses and the works of Josephus. This provides a rich background to draw characters and inspiration from in order to craft a grand narrative to tell a new story of Moses. Largely filling in the 'forgotten years' between Moses exile and return to Egypt.

The casting though, is spot on.

A younger Charlton Heston (with pectoral muscles which could put eyes out) captures a young, outgoing, and brash image of Moses who has been raised by Egyptians. His performance as the film rolls on and he undergoes a transformation from honorable, but driven and intriguing prince, to a devout holy man with a mission to free his people. His penchant for chewing the scenery is fantastic in my opinion and he can be perfectly over the top as necessary.

The second character I noticed was Vincent Price as Baka, an Egyptian overseer who goes from faithful assistant to Moses, to card carrying villain. The man whose voice I remember from The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo as a kid, plays an excellent and sinister character on screen. Though admittedly this is a tiny role, it fills me with great amusement.

Bigger roles of course are those of Rameses (Yul Brynner), Nefritiri (Anne Baxter), Joshua (John Derek), Aaron (John Carradine), Lilia (Debra Paget), Yochabel (Martha Scott) and Bithia (Nina Foch). Each of these actors is well cast to their parts, and the female leads are all amazing in their performances.

I think that for a 1950s film, the agency and drama it grants to women is admirable. The roles of Nina Foch as Bithia and Martha Scott as Yochabel both are allowed to shape and drive Moses while holding some agency of their own. Though this is primarily in the form of protecting and nurturing their biological and adoptive son, it is a good role regardless. Nefritiri, whose scheming and agency drives much of the plot is a fantastic character, for both her tragic backstory and her desire for vengeance. Unfortunately, the character Lila falls into the "damsel in distress" category as Joshua's love interest.

While the film would soundly and swiftly fail a modern Betchel Test, it is fair for its day in the 1950s in giving its female characters more voice.

The Biblical epic though, unfolds roughly similar to the original story in the Book of Exodus. Pharaoh, fearing that the people of Judah will become too populous, orders the massacre of every firstborn males of the Hebrews. Yochabel, seeking to protect her son, sets him adrift in the river. He is saved and adopted by Bithia, daughter of Pharaoh.

Years pass, the Hebrews suffer, but Moses (named so by Bithia) is raised in luxury. Prince Moses quickly becomes the favorite of Pharaoh Sethi, to the jealously of his son Prince Rameses. This kicks off the plot as Rameses is charged to build a great city to honor Sethi, but his cruelty slows production. Meanwhile, Moses has won a great victory over Ethiopia, earning acclaim. However, he covets Pharaoh's daughter Nefritiri, who Rameses also covets. When Moses is sent to build Sethi's great city, Rameses schemes against him. Moses however, sees the plight of the Hebrews, and tries to aid them. In the process, he learns of his Hebrew parentage and has a crisis of conscience. In doing so he decides to forgo his Egyptian heritage and live among the slaves.

Here is where part of the film felt contrived for me. In the Book of Exodus, (and the great adaptation, The Prince of Egypt) Moses kills an Egyptian overseer, so he must flee. Here, the same thing happens but in a far more contrived way. Despite being told repeatedly that only Pharaoh may free slaves, and with his path to becoming Pharaoh secure, Moses decides to forgo power and live amongst the Hebrews to know his heritage. Instead of using the path laid out for him to free his people and become an enlightened ruler, he decides to take the hard and stupid way. Moses from this movie doesn't seem too bright in this moment.

It gets worse when because of this bad decision he is captured and accused of being "the Deliverer" whom the Hebrews speak of taking them out of bondage. Rameses has him exiled, showing a great deal of bad judgement himself, and Moses wanders the desert until he comes to the tribe of Jethro, and meets his daughter Sephora.

From here the narrative leaves the contrivance train and we get to the big symbols of the burning bush, Moses receiving his staff and getting all woolly haired and wild eyed, and his return to Egypt.

In is at this point that the movie begins playing to its strengths. While the acting and story telling in the first half of the movie is superb (save for Moses being something of an idiot) the narrative shines forth to tell the story of the exodus from Egypt quite well.

The plagues are carried out as well as can be expected with 50s special effects, which is to say remarkably well at points. They manage to show the turning of the Nile to blood, the flaming hail, and a truly creepy rendition of the Angel of Death coming into Egypt. That last scene is tense, disturbing, and truly enjoyable.

The special effects too, are stunning for the time. Showing off the great accomplishments in Egypt, the crossing of the Red Sea, the tempest of God as a pillar of fire, and the burning bush. There was a reason this was, at the time, the most expensive movie ever made.

When one considers that by and large this was accomplished through practical effects and with large groups of extras, the coordination is even more impressive. In the penultimate scene where Rameses chases the Jews to the Red Sea, the armies of Pharaoh are actually being played by the Egyptian Army! Which is pretty great in my humble opinion.

At the time this was one of the most expensive movies ever produced. When one considers the budgets many movies get now and the results that delivers, it should be obvious that directors could learn a thing or two from old movies.

The film is of course something of a morality tale. Nefritiri is something of a "Vamp" who uses her feminine wiles to confuse and misguide the men in her life, and is influenced by first her lust, then hatred for Moses. That the story is from the Book of Exodus is fitting since it is the triumph of the Christian God over the gods of Egypt. Moses more questionable decisions come from a clear intent of following an honor code.

Definitely old fashioned in its message, The Ten Commandments is a spectacle that shouldn't be missed, however. The films scenes of Biblical epics and amazing effects for the 50s stand true today. The acting is grand, the story holds up as timeless, and the film itself is a deserved epic. If the long view time puts you off, it comes with a natural intermission to pause at for a little while if you're not up for seeing the whole thing in one sitting.

Well worth seeing as an excellent Retro Film. Personally, I'm looking forward to recommending many more for you!

Monday, 25 June 2018

Kill Joy Killdeer

So the annual Bluesfest in Ottawa has been disrupted by a protected migratory bird laying its eggs where the main stage is to be set up. This has created a situation known now as the 'Bluesnest' which is proving birds can be real kill joys.



The bird, a Killdeer, is relatively plentiful across North America, but the eggs cannot be moved without approval from the government as they are protected under the Migratory Birds Convention Act of 1994. Yes, that is real. This causes a problem for the organizers as it potentially postpones their set up, and leads to a delay in an event which draws hundreds of thousands each year. This generates great revenue for the city and for all involved.

Amusingly while listening to the radio I have heard great support for the little bird. Many people are actively rooting for it, except perhaps those who stand to lose a lot of money. However, that the bird is even being respected at all is something that makes me proud of my country and this city. That it is making front page news is endlessly amusing since it holds up a very profitable venture.

Inevitably I think the bird and nest will be moved. There's simply too much money and publicity at stake. At most the festival may be delayed by a day or two while some wrangling takes place, but the show will go on.

Now I personally am not a huge fan of Bluesfest, but it is an important part of Ottawa summer life and draws huge crowds. The money being made and the publicity for artists who attend is huge, and as an opportunity can't be missed. While I personally won't be attending I would wish those who are attending well, and really only hope for the respect to the venue (and its local wildlife) it deserves.

However, we must hope that this respect will be understood by our avian brethren. Birds, despite their shorter lifespan, clearly have long genetic memories. Being capable of flight (and with the ability to dive bomb their excrement) they may prove more adept at ruining the festival than the organizers might like. I believe we know all too well what can happen if things get out of hand...




In the spirit of cooperation I propose we respect our flying friends and just let 'em hatch! Otherwise no one might live to enjoy the festival.

Saturday, 19 May 2018

Phyrne Fisher

Last December I had the privilege of going overseas across the Pacific and visiting the wonderful country of Australia, which has since then really captured my imagination. It is a country with a rich and fascinating history, and one just as unique and interesting as Canada. I'm even writing an amusing travelogue based on my notes from the trip at the moment.

But with a visit to Australia I became enamored with the places and people. Naturally I began pursuing some fiction set in the country.

Thankfully I was then introduced to the Phryne Fisher series of novels. Which is also an excellent series on Netflix.



Set in the late 1920s it chronicles the career of recent immigrant (and former emigrant) Phryne Fisher, who has returned to Australia to undertake some detective work on behalf of friends in England. Upon arriving in Australia she finds herself swept up in a tide of mystery, intrigue, and murder as the dark underbelly down under creeps into her life. Not one to be scared by such things she takes to solving murder and mayhem with particular aplomb. Along the way saving wayward souls and attracting some colorful followers.

First is her maidservant Dot, whom she saves from committing murder on a man who wronger her. Then a couple of redragger cabbies who serve as co-investigators and impromptu muscle as needed. Her servants, the aptly named Mr. and Mrs Butler, and wayward orphans who end up her wards. This fills up her not inconsiderable household quickly, and amidst solving crimes she continues an amorous life of romance and earning the respect of her male peers through her charm, wit, and intelligence.

Phryne, a character named after an ancient Theban courtesan, is a well rounded character. She's also unapologetically feminist, feminine and amorous. Exploring the unfortunate situations of woman in early 20th century society through her own privileged lens which is informed by her upbringing in poverty. This makes her a breath of fresh air in my opinion. She openly lampshades morals of the time while still fitting into the 'flapper' idea that is historical. She also calls out the sexism and patriarchal attitudes that keep women in chains in that era, making for some fun, and from the present, humorous, reading as she outwits the men who try to outwit her.

The original stories (the first three of which I have just read in the omnibus Introducing the Honourable Phryne Fisher) were written by Australian author Kerry Greenwood. First appearing in the 1989 novel Cocaine Blues, Ms. Fisher would appear in a further 19 stories set in Australia.

However, my original introduction to the character came through the show Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries the aforementioned show on Netflix dramatizing the story of Miss Fisher in a role well played by Essie Davis.

One small disappointment in seeing the show before the book is that I now have a set view in my head for how the characters look, even though that might not necessarily be true to how they are portrayed in the books. While that is not a problem as Essie Davis looks almost exactly how one would picture Miss Fisher in the books, other characters are a bit problematic to contemplate in their looks based on the shows portrayal of them.

This isn't to say the show is bad, far from it, but that this is why I prefer a written medium before I watch a screen medium of portrayal so an image doesn't get stuck in my head.

However, the two mediums tell these stories well.

In the stories we have an abundance of side characters and slowly introduced secondary characters who come out of the woodwork over time. For instance, while the show is quick to focus on Inspector Robinson, he is not much other than a secondary character in the first few books who only grown into his own over time. Mrs. Butler is absent from the series entirely, and some intriguing secondary characters such as Phryne's prostitute friend, Policewoman Jones, and Phryne's various lovers, go completely unmentioned. This is understandable for television reasons, but it makes the books strikingly different in tone and even with some fun twists to the stories you see on the screen. However, some problems emerge when it seems like Robinson and his one police sidekick are the only constables in town, especially as Ms. Fisher solves crimes farther away.

The show though, has one intriguing feature. An overarching plot device throughout the different seasons is always tied in from an earlier mystery. The first is Phryne confronting a serial killer who killed her sister in their childhood and attempting to discover the reason for it. The subsequent seasons all introduce their own clever plots to the piece, and you can be swept up trying to figure them out. 

The mysteries she solves are also delightfully clever. My favorite is probably the 1991 book (and episode of the same name) Murder on the Ballarat Train which does credit to the classic Orient Express mystery, but also is a clever murder in and of itself with clues that stack up only slowly over time until you reach a terrifying conclusion! It's an intriguing stumper which makes your mind wonder in a good way!

Though I have thus far only read three of the novels, I fully intend to get my hands on more of them for a deep read.

Her murders, as explored on the show, are also clever. From a ghostly haunting in a theater, to a Christmas themed serial killing, Phyrne never fails to find the excitement down under!

To those who enjoy strong female characters, Australia (and the accent), good mysteries, period drams, and of course, a dash of intrigue, I heartily recommend these stories. If you're not a big reader check out the series on Netflix, or purchase it yourself! I can personally attest that it is well worth the read/watch and you won't be wasting your time.

Tuesday, 8 May 2018

A Kill in the Morning

The year is 1955 and something is very wrong with the world.

That is the excellent opening tagline which sucked me into the world of A Kill in the Morning by Graeme Shimmin. Published in 2015 this is a riveting action packed alternate history novel that could in fact be a feature film ripped from the 1980s. It has the riveting action and intrigue of a James Bond novel and the detail of an alternate history piece. Even the book cover looks like something you would find in the amazing stylized posters of the era!


Originally written on alternate history.com by user Shimbo it then got published and came out to some acclaim in the community. I'm quite pleased by this as not only am I a member of the website myself, but I've followed the work of other members there for a while as well!

In that case I was happy to tear into this novel with unbridled pleasure. Let me say that it doesn't disappoint on any front, whether it be action or alternate history!

Opening in 1955 we meet a nameless British assassin while he is out in Germany. Officially he is supposed to be on holiday. Really he ends up killing an SS officer who is responsible for the massacre of his team on a dangerous mission in 1947. One of them at least. He returns to a Britain engaged in a cold war with the German Reich, with the two sides are locked in atomic staring contest across the Channel.

While fleeing from his mission he meets a hapless member of the White Rose, Kitty, as she stumbles away from a mission of her own. Upon meeting her he returns to Britain where he begins to unravel an intrigue that has been playing out since 1941. In Germany itself, a ruthless SS man is rising to the top, the man with the iron heart Reinhard Heydrich.

Wednesday, 2 May 2018

Small Treasures

On Sunday, I had the nostalgic experience of helping empty out my grandmothers house. It had been in my family for 44 years, and I have many fond memories of it from my earliest childhood. In helping clean it out I found myself nostalgic and wistful for those younger years.

It was a place where my parents had grown into adulthood, and I too went from an infant to an adult in those halls. I have happy memories of it, running around the large household, playing in the big basement, and going through (what seemed to my younger mind) the palatial halls and rooms.

The brown carpet in particular was a fixture of my childhood

It was where I learned my love of history, my love of reading, and my early faith with the tutelage of my uncle and grandmother. In fact I think many of my best lessons in life were learned under that roof. My grandmother was one of the people who made me who I am today.

"In the same way, you who are younger, submit yourselves to your elders. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, 'God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.'" (1 Peter 5:5)

“I have not departed from the commandment of his lips; I have treasured the words of his mouth more than my portion of food.” (Job 23:12)

I learned manners in this dining room.

Sunday, 29 April 2018

The German Spring Offensive and "Victory"

100 years ago this month, the Germans began a series of offensives designed to, if not drive the Entente to defeat, drive them to the negotiating table. The German Spring Offensive (the Kaiserschlacht) or more generally, Operation Michael, the brain child of German Quartermaster General Erich Ludendorff. This was all to take place with 190 Divisions, three million men, and reinforcements, drawn from the German victory on the Eastern Front. It was the hope that this offensive would drive a wedge between the British and French armies, forcing the British to protect the Channel Ports, and push the French back into Paris so the German Army could deliver a coup-de-main and drive the Entente from the war before American manpower could be decisive.

The first phase, Operation Michael, was designed to drive the a wedge between the French and British armies, and force the British back towards the Channel Ports. Follow up operations (initially termed Operation Georg) would then turn north to deliver a decisive blow to the British in Flanders by capturing Hazebrouck railway junction. Meanwhile, smaller operations would distract and throw back the French, rendering them unable to aid the British and leaving their flank open for an eventual march on Paris.

However, lofty as these goals were, in reality they were strategic failures. While Operation Michael was a great success, driving the British back in a huge breakthrough, it lacked any strategic objective, and Ludendorff failed to set any major objective until it was too late. He reinforced success, rather than strategic goals, and only set Amiens as an objective after a week of fighting. After two weeks the attack fizzled out as the Germans outpaced their supplies, and failed to follow up their attacks. A miniature version of Georg (Georgette) was then launched to try and keep the British off balance, resulting in the Battle of the Lys, which also ended in failure. In the end this lengthened German lines by 80km, in a weak salient with no true strategic value.

They also lost over 350,000 irreplaceable troops. These soldiers were the best of the best, selected for their fitness and professionalism. By the end of April, these men were gone. The elite stormtroopers were depleted, along with the reserves that were supposed to keep the subsequent offensives on track.

However, the Germans came within a hairsbreadth of forcing their way through to the vital rail line at Amiens. If the Germans had captured Amiens during Operation Michael, they would have been able to severely damage the British ability to supply their armies in the field, and put a significant chink in the Entente's ability to coordinate. Follow up operations could then inflict local defeats on the Entente forces, and maybe, just maybe, drive them to the negotiating table before summer, and the arrival of the American juggernaut.

Let us assume that Ludendorff manages to rush everything in to strengthen his right flank and manages to press on to Amiens, strengthening his lines so we end up with a situation roughly like this:



Amiens is in German hands, and the right is slightly more stable, with a definite wedge driven between the Entente armies, with Haig and the BEF divided along the Somme, and the French First Army on their flank. The railroads are in German hands but damaged, and they have suffered heavier casualties and failed to take Arras, which is well entrenched.

The Entente now must marshal for a counter offensive, but the Germans cannot hope to continue their planned spring offensives. Assuming they attempt to, they instead opt to fall into the defensive by June, rather than continuing to attack into July of 1918. Ludendorff informs the Kaiser they must seek negotiations, but not an armistice, while the Entente is unbalanced, lest they find themselves with nothing.

Assuming for the moment the Entente accepts German negotiations, what might this potential peace look like?