My takeaway on this film is that it’s a eulogy mainly about the effect Bourdain had on his friends. Profound disappointment ensues as it digresses into a maudlin confessional and outpouring of grief. It’s all about their issues regarding his death with the excuse that he possessed a mercurial personality. There is never enough of the story-telling his friends rave about. There is never enough of his narration, his wit and acerbic renditions of the human condition a la Bourdain.
First and foremost, the film opens with much younger Bourdain explaining that he wants no fuss when he dies. None. So why did his friends and co-workers go so far in doing exactly what their friend explicitly said he didn’twant done?
If there is a boat to be missed, Bourdain’s friends are still running in a fog to catch it.
Unnecessary sensationalizing, such as the eating raw snake clip, which was emphasized but the reason he did so not fully explained. Sure, Bourdain loved risk and danger, but he also had enormous respect for cultures and the foods attached to cultures. Much of what he ate would cause us to gag, but what we’d think of as weirdness, he ate as a sign of respect. He also possessed, and was possessed by, unquenchable curiosity.
This was typified, and again not explained, with a brief shot that showed the horror and misery on his face when he joined in on a boar hunt and used the pike he’d been given. Nothing was said of how the incident sickened him, no insertion of his preface of how people buy packages of meat and never take a moment to think about the fact that it came from a living animal, or the many people around the world, who must kill living creatures in order to survive. He joined in the hunt to give respect to his host and fulfill an obligation to comprehend what we all take for granted.
Finally, the film screams for editing. Getting rid of the tedious f-bombs would save twenty minutes. There are endless repetitions and renditions of their friend’s complex personality and their discombobulated inability to understand why they couldn’t do anything to help his downward emotional spiral.
What I did enjoy about this film was how his writing ability was celebrated. Few writers have his brilliance for cutting to the quick with a few words. Saying so much with economy is a gift. So was Anthony Bourdain.
Better title: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. (Sorry about it being previously used but it fits.)
I’ve been a fan of Chris Pratt since he kicked and danced his way through the opening credits of Guardians of the Galaxy to Come and Get Your Love. This time, I suspect that he and his agent read the original screenplay and signed up. Then the producers and script writers got their fingers in the pie and made a mess.
The Good part is the alien confrontation/action. Lots of heart-pounding pacing, which serves to make glaring the the plodding, boring, angsty scenes even more obvious and painful. And there are way too many. The initial set up is so unnecessary to the story that it should never have been filmed. Or at least gotten edited out. (Don’t want to imagine what did get edited.)
The Bad is the stupid character choices syndrome, the ‘should we go look in the basement’ cliché. We won’t even go there just to avoid the spoiler-thing.
The Ugly has to do with plot holes big enough to fly the Enterprise through. The ‘ah-ha’ moments that are so not worth the pause for self-congratulation and buoyant hope such revelations are supposed to supply to the story.
When it all boils down to a gob of grease, re-watch World War Z to renew your faith in dystopian action-adventure flicks. Don’t waste your time streaming The Tomorrow War unless you’re in the mood for a laugh.
Better yet, go see 12 Mighty Orphans. It’s a true-to-life story about courage, honor and determination during a time when our country stood for those ideals. The 12’s ending credits are worth the ticket price just to read what those remarkable young men eventually accomplished with their lives.
Much has already been written about this film. (See link to NYT article below) What struck me strongest was its uniqueness. Director Chloé Zhao has done something extraordinary. There are scads of movies about character studies, the coming of age later in life, processing grief, discovering oneself, but Nomadland is all of that and more. We are allowed inside the lives of nomads.
We know what to expect when Frances McDormand is first up on the credits. From Fargo to Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, she knows her way around character development. As Fern, she pulls us so intimately into her internal world that there is no looking away. Fern makes it clear to everyone that she is entirely possessed by her need for freedom and isolation, and yet everyone is drawn to her compassion, honesty, and brokenness. Other than Fern’s relentless determination to maintain her freedom, there is nothing harsh about the film. There’s nothing whiny about its theme of rising above poverty with dignity and resolution. There’s a lovely comradery among the nomads, a sense of family, caring, and appreciation of the land that probably has not been seen since the Plains tribes roamed. These nomads travel to seasonal jobs. Fern often chooses not to travel with them. Part of her stubborn drive to be alone comes from unresolved grief for the loss of her husband, the only person in her life that compelled her to stay. Her devotion to him and her grief rejects all attempts from fellow nomad Dave (David Strathairn) to form a relationship.
Zhao casted real people. This has been done before, especially in cameos, but this is another dimension. Linda May and Swankie live this life. This literally is their life. The dignity and generosity of their spirits glow on the screen. Hear Linda May’s tragedy when she tells Fern that she’d worked all of her life, and when time to retire, her Social Security came to a little over five-hundred dollars. She has no other choice but to live on the road.
At no time was I bored within the story. Nor sad. I was transfixed. It isn’t a tale of woe but of courage, sharing, and endurance. Fern puts her opinion and the story into perspective when sitting in the back yard with her sister’s friends, who talk about selling houses. She points out that there is nothing to be proud about selling houses to people who will never get out from under the debt. The differences between Fern’s idea of living and theirs is a stark reminder of how we make our life choices, what is important to us individually. Fern’s is a life striped down to its essentials, the opposite, and an entirely different American dream.
Look for Nomadland getting award nominations for best picture, directing, editing, and performances. For me, there is nothing like going to the movies. Streaming a movie from home is okay, but sitting surrounded by the dark (and I was the only one in the theater last night) and watching the previews, felt delicious. So what if a mask is mandatory. I never noticed it. Too busy admiring Fern’s courage. Next up, Land.
Civil war veteran, Captain Jefferson Kidd (Tom Hanks) avoids confronting his emotionally damaged life by giving public readings from newspapers. It seems strange to us that people would eagerly gather to listen with rapt focus as they do in News of the World, but lecturing and public speaking was highly valued and appreciated in that era. It didn’t matter what the subject was. In the rough country of postwar Texas, most could barely scrape out an existence. The eager attention of Kidd’s audiences is not an exaggeration. Entertainment of any sort was a rarity and illiteracy commonplace. In those days, the excellence of a speech was graded by its length—the longer, the better. The Gettysburg Address was considered shabby because it was so brief.
Captain Kidd’s plodding reality as an itinerant speaker is jarred from complacency when he comes across an abandoned white girl, Johanna (Helena Zengel). Stolen as a toddler, she’d been “rescued” from a Kiowa tribe being forcibly displaced from their homeland. On the trip to return her to her relatives, the man hired to escort Johanna is hung because he’s black, leaving her stranded. Kidd becomes a reluctant savior in the effort to return the courageous, belligerent girl to her relatives. This means traveling through dangerous country, and so ensues an exciting and harrowing odyssey for the pair. Along the way the two inadvertently begin to heal—the girl from the loss of her first and second family, Kidd from his estrangement to the wife he can’t talk about. I don’t do spoilers. All questions and mysteries are answered in the end.
There is much to admire in this film when it comes to production and storyline. If you’re done with the glut of all action-no-substance movies, this is the meal you’ve been hungering for. There were many standout supportive performances, but hotel owner Mrs. Garrett (Elizabeth Marvel) is my favorite. It goes without saying that this is another Hanks award worthy performance. Zengel’s prickly and ferocious Johanna is easy to feel compassion for even when she’s acting out her grief and loneliness. The costuming and settings are accurate. I bothered me that the captain didn’t cover his face during a dust storm. I had the same bugaboo about westerns when it comes to hard riding a horse then having it not break a sweat. But again, wranglers in movies are either ruled by animal control standards or their tender hearts. And I loved how Hanks rode with heel-down in the stirrups style.
In recent years we’ve been confronted by national upheaval and animosity, divisiveness, cruelty, racism, and violence. All of that is contained in this film, but the difference is its careful contrast of humanity and inhumanity, how two individuals confront circumstantial and environmental adversity, and through companionship, define the meaning of family. The unfolding story is thrilling and absorbing, but most of all, has an ending that had me leaving the theater uplifted and happy. We can all use a bit of that. I’ll buy it when released or brave Covid one more time to see it again.
It’s been months since doing anything with this blog. What with movie theaters shut down, there’s not much in the way of films to review, so I’ve been writing. The second book in a my newest fantasy series, Seasons of War, comes out tomorrow. This is a short story from that world. The character was inspired by my son, who passed unexpectedly, in September. The book released tomorrow, Out of the Sea, is dedicated to him.
Revenge and Remembrance
Voxel polished his mother’s armor, smoothing the soft cleaning cloth over the chest plate. He’d had to alter the buckles and straps for it to fit him. It hadn’t been difficult. She’d been a tall woman, more muscular than he was, but he’d inherited her long limbs, stubbornness, and hot temper. Since she wasn’t alive to show his affection, he cared for her armor, proud of the Calvary insignia, her name etched into her sword, and her status embossed in dark blue on the silver metal: Outrider and Archer, first rank.
When his mother discovered she was pregnant, she applied for a dispensation. Warriors were denied active duty if they carried a child. She left Camp Xur and rode home to Sha until her child was born. As soon as she was able, she returned to active duty. He saw his mother rarely, usually on his birthing day or when she delivered dispatches to Sha.
“Voxel, put that away. There is work to be done. The Cavalry leaves tomorrow.”
“I finished the arrows, Grandfather.”
Voxel gestured with his head to the crates of barbed arrows stacked against the armory’s back door. One wall of the armory and smithy had been raised, propped up on poles, and left open during the day due to the heat from the forge.
Voxel used a forearm to swipe the sweat from his brow as his grandfather grumbled, “What about the spears?”
“Done and already loaded on the cart.”
Others avoided Cal of Sha’s perpetually gruff temperament, but his grandfather’s irascible manner made Voxel smile. Tall and bulging with muscle and attitude, customers that came to the smithy didn’t linger to chat.
As a boy growing up without his mother, Voxel had been told that his grandfather hadn’t always been that way. The change happened when Cal’s wife had gone off with another man. Then his daughter had left him for the Cavalry.
They also commented that Voxel had his late mother’s unpredictable disposition, merry and teasing one moment, then in an instant, fierce and combative. Voxel knew that about himself and also knew that he would one day break what was left of his grandfather’s heart by achieving improbable.
The improbable, not the impossible.
Since he’d first touched the armor that he now carefully packed away, he was determined to fight with the Cavalry. From the moment he’d found her things in a battered trunk and brushed aside the dusty packing cloths, he knew what he had to do. He had to avenge his mother’s reportedly heroic death. The problem with that desire was that he was young and male. The Cavalry was made up entirely of females with the exception of Lorin-Sha, who like his father, had empathy with chargers. Voxel’s mother possessed that extraordinary gift that was so necessary for acceptance into the Cavalry. In addition to her temperament, she bequeathed her son the empathic talent rarely found in men.
Most chargers couldn’t survive the loss of their riders. They often went mad and had to be put down. His mother’s mount became despondent, and in confused grief, traveled to Sha to find her. Voxel took him to the forest, hand fed him, offering him the freedom and time to heal. Because of his mother’s gift of empathy, Voxel was able to share comforting memories of her. In time, his mother’s charger regained sanity.
Wild chargers, brown and much smaller than the Cavalry bred, ran free in Sha’s forests. They usually avoided the massive black specimens trained from birth to become living machines of war. His mother’s charger sired foals with brown speckles, and in secret, Voxel chose a female as aggressive as her sire and filed serrations into her fangs like the warriors did with their mounts. He now had a charger of his own and his mother’s armor.
He was ready for combat when word that an invasion was expected on the coast near Cavalry Stud Farm in eastern Xur. The urge to fight rippled beneath his skin. Vengeance burned in his soul, but he wasn’t ready to hurt his grandfather.
As Sha’s Cavalry contingent moved out the next morning, Voxel stood under the armory’s upraised wall. His grandfather joined him, morose and glaring at the tail-docked rumps of the chargers moving down the dusty road.
His grandfather broke the silence. “They will walk or slow jog them all the way to Xur to save their strength. It will take three or four days to meet up with the rest of them on the coast in Xur.”
When Voxel said nothing, his grandfather continued with an explanation Voxel didn’t need but wanted to hear. “The talk in the village is that a sorceress rules creatures from underneath the ground. Whatever they are, they look aquatic in confirmation and come up from the cave tunnels along the coastline.”
“Yes. That is what I heard. Lorin-Sha is leading our warriors. Lord Sha must be worried.”
“Yes. That is to be expected, but he will not interfere with his son’s duty. Nor will I.”
Voxel closed his eyes as an ache filled his chest. “Grandfather.”
His grandfather turned away to stoke the forge. “I am not blind and know what you have been doing all these seasons in the forest. Your mother couldn’t help herself either. She had to go off to fight. And die. They sent her things home with honors, but courage is no comfort for those left behind.”
When Voxel exhaled a long sigh and shook his head, his grandfather said, “Tack up, boy. That spotted charger is watching you from the woods along the village road. Since the only thing I have left of your mother is armor and you, I assume you have her talent for empathy. Your mount has been guarding your things.”
His grandfather kept working the bellows as Voxel went to stand behind his grandfather, gripped his wide shoulders, and pressed his cheek into the flexing muscles across his back. “This is for her, Grandfather.”
He nodded and never looked up from the angry glow and heat of the forge. Voxel stepped back and went to collect the hide bag that held his mother’s armor. He jogged down the road to his charger, put on the armor, and swung up onto her back. She knew where to go—to the hidden cache of her saddle and his weapons. He cinched the Cavalry saddle, tucked the bow in its sheath, strapped on greaves, and mounted up. He savored and shared his charger’s eagerness to do battle as they cantered away from the valley that was his home.
They followed Sha’s Cavalry contingent south then east. He shot harpies for his charger to eat and munched on the seed bread and fruit he’d packed the morning he’d left. Water had to be rationed as they crossed the province of Nir. He hid in the woods for three nights after they reached Xur, waiting and listening for the whistle command for the Cavalry to assemble. When it came, his heart pounded as he rode to the back of the warriors lined up and waiting for orders. A few glanced his way, but he knew that outsiders often tried to join the ranks and were typically told to leave. Setting his jaw, he resolved to ignore anyone who told him to go away. He never thought that the person to confront him would be the Cavalry Leader herself, Denea, survivor of the slaying of the Spawn on the Dawn That Bleeds.
She rode along the rows of warriors, her charger mean-eyed and menacing. His filed fangs gleamed in the sunlight. Her intricately embossed armor and helmet glinted harsh reflections. While her ferocious mount displayed impatience for battle, Cavalry Leader was the embodiment of calm calculation. When she halted her charged at the end of the line to examine an interloper, her expression remained impassive.
Denea focused her attention on his smaller charger. Her own snarled his annoyance at Voxel’s mount, sensing that she had no training, but his charger stood her ground, bared her spiky teeth, and hissed in his face. Voxel worked to suppress his grin, while Denea removed the command whistle from her mouth.
Leaning back in her saddle, Cavalry Leader said, “That mix-breed you ride was sired by the mount of the late warrior Voxella of Sha.”
“Yes, Cavalry Leader.”
“And you wear her armor.”
He forced himself to stay silent and still, to not react when she eyed his quiver of barbed arrows and the spare quivers lashed to the saddle. He expected her to remind him that it was illegal to do so, but instead she asked, “You any good with her bow?”
“I am my mother’s son, Cavalry Leader.”
When he jerked a nod, his helmet shifted slightly. Warriors plaited their braids in a way that held the headgear in place. He’d let his grow enough to braid but didn’t know how the warriors did the braids. Another worry added to the dread of waiting to be told to leave. Sensing his distress, his charger shifted and made an odd, mewling sound.
Denea said, “Come with me.”
He forced down a swallow and told his charger to follow the heavily muscled rump of the Cavalry Leader’s mount. It wasn’t easy to cover his surprise when he was escorted toward the head of the line. They rode by rows of warriors with spears pointed up, looking like a forest of bristling spikes.
With a nod of Denea’s helmeted head, an archer shifted her mount to make room for him. While his charger obediently backed into the empty spot, a warrior down the line raised her hand. Denea’s nod brought the archer out of position, and she rode up, saluting with an arm-smacking clank against her chest plate.
“Cavalry Leader, may I stand beside the recruit?”
Denea nodded and the exchange took place as Cavalry Leader continued her inspection. The experienced warrior beside her said, “I am Misdra. Your mother was a friend of mine and Lorin-Sha’s.”
“He never mentioned it.”
A corner of Misdra’s mouth twitched. “Sounds like Lorin, the surly sot.”
“I am Voxel of Sha. I assume you will explain the whistle commands.”
“Attention and prepare for attack is two short bursts. Aim and fire at will is one. A long one that rises at the end is charge. We are spaced this way for the ones behind us with spears. They ride through the archers after the initial barrage. We stay on the perimeter to guard the flanks and shoot down anything that tries to escape.”
“What is that noise?” Unfamiliar shrieks and grunts were oddly muffled, and with every moment that passed, increased in volume and fury.
Misdra had to raise her voice to be heard over the escalating noise. “That is the enemy. Reports say they will be twice the size of a charger, may have armor-hard scales. Aim for the eyes. Get ready.”
Two short bursts blasted from Denea’s whistle. All around him, warriors shouted, “For Omirr and Voxella!”
Then they screamed in unison, a high, shrill battle cry. The hairs on the back of his neck lifted from the eerie sound. He clamped spare arrows between his teeth, nocked an arrow, and prepared. The ground shuddered. Chargers shrieked for release as monsters burst up from the soil, spraying dirt and rocks. Webbed claws came out first then heads covered in scales, gigantic jaws lined with teeth, beneath small, blue-black eyes. More rabid creatures crawled out of the holes. He smiled around the metal clenched in his teeth when the whistle command came. There was no time to savor the victory of watching monsters slam head first into the ground from barbed arrows that never missed. His own arrow struck true. He reached for the next, aimed, and let it fly.
With every arrow that found its mark, the relentless rage for the loss of his mother eased, and somehow he knew that he would survive, and perhaps become the second man to be inducted into the Cavalry and make his mother proud.
When the warriors behind the archers charged forward, Voxel’s charger begged to join the savagery. Voxel mentally held her in check and joined the rest of the archers on the flank to finish off the escapees. Time dissolved. His muscles ached from nonstop shooting. When victory was apparent, the archers allowed their mounts to join the melee and tear into anything that still lived. His mare was the daughter of one of the Cavalry’s finest and did her work without instruction. When the whistle next blew, his mare followed the Cavalry mounts into retreat and to regroup.
Warriors came to congratulate his mount now that she’d been bloodied. Misdra slapped his back. “Well done, warrior. It takes a strong empath to keep them in hand.”
A blush burned his cheeks. “I always wanted a sister.”
She handed across a water flask. “Poor fellow. Now you have a battalion.”
He didn’t have to explain to her when he asked, “Do I have a chance?”
Misdra glanced at Cavalry Leader. “You handled yourself and your mount well. And your mother was a favorite.”
“But that might not be enough.” The vibrant rush of battle excitement waned. Reality filled the void. “And I am young.”
Misdra’s nose wrinkled as her lips made a moue. “Induction age has to do with being strong enough to carry a wounded sister from the field. Being male, you developed strength earlier but are still kind of skinny.”
He pinched back a smile that faded when he saw Denea riding up. His heart began to thump. He hoped his eyes wouldn’t start to leak when she sent him away.
Denea removed the whistle she’d kept clenched in her teeth and leaned forward to brace a forearm on the saddle. She looked him in the eye. “You never missed.”
How had she seen that amid all the chaos?
“Son of Voxella, would you like me to advocate with Lord Sha for sponsorship?”
He gulped and said nothing, doubting he could. Her narrow-eyed inspection revealed none of her thoughts. She straightened in the saddle and scratched her jaw. Comprehending what she was asking was too difficult to unravel. His throat was too tight for speaking. He reviewed what she’d just said to be sure he’d heard her correctly. All he could do was nod, and feeling stupid, watched her ride off.
Through a haze of shock, he felt Misdra’s grip on his arm. “Ladnor-Sha is a generous man. He will do it. Of that I am sure.”
Using the back of his wrist, he swiped the wet from his cheeks. “She is making an exception?”
“Sounds like it, and I warn you now, you better sow any oats you have lying around, because there will be none of that once you are inducted.”
He’d started thinking about that at the beginning of last season, noticing girls, and had been very well aware that Cavalry membership included a celibacy rule. The words were out of his mouth before he could stop them. “But Lorin-Sha is married.”
Misdra snorted a laugh. “He is royalty and so is his wife.” She shook her head at him. “In addition to getting yourself inducted in the Cavalry, do you also have it in mind to marry a royal?”
“The Cavalry is more than enough.” Tilting back his head, he looked up at the cloudless blue sky and whispered, “For you, Mother and Omirr.”
This is the last short story I wrote for October and Halloween this year. Lux has her hands full when she rescues a black cat:
Where did the keys to my yellow Bentley get to? Probably in the bottom of my purse. I was digging for them on my way out of the office supply store when I heard a cat yowl behind the building. A loud, panicked screech. It made the hairs on my arms rise. And then silence. Something must have scared it.
I tossed my paper and ink cartridges on the passenger seat when the yowl shrieked again. Nuts! That cat sounded like it was in trouble. I went to see what was happening.
As I rounded the corner of the building, I spotted a teenage boy with a sharp stick poking a black cat. He’d tied its back paw to a…
Judi Lynn, friend and critique partner, is offering a free chapter of her Muddy River Mystery series today. Since she has generously and repeatedly offered her blog for guest postings for my works, it’s time to repay, and I do so happily.
Muddy River is atmospheric, sometimes grizzly, and full of juicy characters, most especially her H&H, both wicked scary with magical powers. Neither of them mess around when it comes to kicking the butts of the baddies.
Something that has always fascinated me is Judi’s mind. She comes up with some creepy stuff. The contrast to what she puts on the page and what she’s like to be around and have as a friend bears no resemblance. I suppose it’s the same with acting—one doesn’t have to be a murderer to portray a serial killer. Although, I couldn’t look at Mark Harmon for years after he did the Ted Bundy thing. (Insert shiver here.) Time to pick Judi’s brain:
Hope my brain comes up with some decent answers.Great questions, BTW. Thanks for inviting me to your blog! I love urban fantasy AND mysteries, so decided to try to combine them in my Muddy River series.
What is it about magic that draws you to write and read about the genre?
Wow, that’s a good question. I guess it’s because I always thought that if you had a lot of power, you could do great things. What I didn’t think about is that, if you have a lot of power and WANT to do great things, someone else has power and uses it for his/her own gain, his own evil purposes. So then, power just ups the ante between a battle for good vs. evil. I also am drawn to the idea that humans—us—are afraid of anything that’s different from us. So that when we are afraid or uncertain, we might become the greatest evil of all.
What about mystery? How old were you when you started reading it?
I didn’t get hooked on mysteries until I found Agatha Christie in high school. I never read Nancy Drew or mysteries for younger readers. Still haven’t. I got hooked on James Fenimore Cooper, James Hilton, and Jane Austen. But once I found Agatha, I loved how her mind worked. Then I got hooked on Sherlock Holmes. I wish I could say I’d read some Dorothy Sayers—only one—but I went from Agatha to Nancy Pickard, M. C. Beaton, Carolyn Hart, and Sharyn McCrumb.
What excites you about characters and plots?
I love a good who-dunnit and why. But lots of books have a KIND of mystery in them—an unanswered question to figure out—besides mysteries. I prefer to follow characters whom I respect and admire. It makes it easier for me to root for them to succeed. That said, I’ve been known to enjoy a sort of anti-hero occasionally, like Jorg from Prince of Thorns. He’s the protagonist, and he’s twisted, but everyone else in the time period comes off as MORE twisted, so it’s a matter of degrees. Jorg seems more noble than anyone around him. As for plots, because I’m a mystery fan, I really notice them. I don’t mind slow starts. Let’s face it. That’s part of writing a cozy. But I want to know the book’s big question, and then I want everything to eventually move to the answer to that question at the end. And if you’ve introduced a subplot and forgotten it along the way, that’s a big problem for me.
What makes you impatient with a story that is enough for you to set it aside, unfinished?
I’m pretty patient with fellow writers, but lately, I’ve reached the point that if a story doesn’t hold my interest, I delete it from my Kindle and move on. I used to feel that I had to finish every book I started. No more. I’ve found more mistakes in books than I used to, but when they mount up to too many, I’m done. And if it feels like the book isn’t going anywhere, that the author padded it to reach a word count, I’m annoyed, too. And then, in all honesty, I can buy a perfectly good book that just isn’t what I like and quit reading it, even though I know LOTS of other readers will love it. We all have different tastes.
Your blogs often speak to what you like to read now. What did you like to read as a child?
Oh, boy. I have to admit, my sisters remember all kinds of things about growing up. I don’t. I mostly remember teachers I loved, but very few books. I read a really thick, really big book about a pigeon in third grade. I know, that doesn’t sound exciting, but it was to me. I raised pigeons when I was young—homing pigeons and racers. And this poor pigeon was a homing pigeon who was let loose far from home and had to survive hawks and hunger before he made it back to his owner. Okay, not many people would buy that today, but it’s stayed with me this long. I went through a short biography stage and Zane Grey. For years, I wanted to grow up and be a pioneer. Oh, Laura Ingalls Wilder probably contributed to that. I loved her books. And Charlotte’s Web. And books about a mouse who was adopted into a family—Stuart Little?? I can’t think of anything else right now. Oh, in high school, I went through a Georgette Heyer phase, too—part of why I love your Regency Romances written as Julia Donner😊
What are you working on now?
I just turned in my sixth Jazzi Zanders mystery, and now, I’m plotting the 7thbook in the series and bouncing back and forth between plotting a new Lux Mystery—something new I’m trying.
Having seen numerous versions of Emma, the real draw to the newest was Bill Nighy. I must say right away that he is splendid. With a twitch of his hand or a barely-there shrug, he conveys everything needed to be expressed. He added the right touch of humor, and IMHO, with a subtly that would please Austen. Many of her characters were meant to be whimsically humorous.
Austen’s Miss Woodhouse is not my favorite, since she is pushy, self-serving and proud. In this rendition, my mild aversion to her has been mollified. Anya Taylor-Joy portrays our heroine in a more accessible manner. Paltrow’s take was somewhat whiny, often petulant, rather childish. Taylor-Joy has created an Emma with more depth, a snobbish, self-satisfied busybody, who learns the meaning of true civility. By the end of the film, she is worthy of the excellent Mr. Knightly, who in this film (Johnny Flynn) comes across as too emotional. He’s a joy to watch, certainly, but the character of Mr. Knightly is a gentleman of constraint and superior style. And I didn’t quite understand the purpose of showing his bare backside or having him lying on the floor in despair. Mr. Knightly prostrate with frustration? Surely not.
And the marvelous Brit actors do not disappoint. Oh, the ensemble acting! So many favorites! And every one of them understands Austen’s restrained humor and sly enjoyment of pointing out humanity’s character flaws. Josh O’Connor as Mr. Elton, who gave us an interesting and sympathetic portrayal of Prince Charles in The Crown, embodies hypocrisy in an almost over-the-top performance. Tanya Reynolds as Mrs. Elton is spot-on as the society witch utterly oblivious to her own crass behavior. Miss Bates, (Miranda Hart of Call the Midwife) is the tender-hearted gentle lady of limited means, but generous of soul, who provides the perfect contrast to Emma’s smallness of character and the catalyst for a much-needed learning experience.
The costumes are exquisite. Emma’s wardrobe is extensive. The hats glorious. The houses and locales are lushly represented. The production is of the highest quality. The Brits almost always do it up right, but this is a step above and beyond. There are many reasons to see this movie, but first and foremost, if you are an admirer of Austen, this one should not be missed.
Older DVD Gem:
THE LAST WORD (2009)
This totally character-driven story is about previously powerful, retired ad exec Harriet Lauler (Shirley MacLaine), who decides that she wants her obituary written before her death. Unfortunately for her, the person she chooses to write it, Ann Sherman (Amanda Seyfried) has a will as strong as Lauler’s and won’t back down and write flowery drivel. Ann forces Lauler to confront the fact that almost everybody hated, feared, and avoided her. She didn’t merely crack the glass ceiling; she smashed it, which means she stepped on many to get there. In order to get a proper obit that conveys a brilliant legacy, Lauler must start a new direction at the end of her life.
The beginning of the film dwells too long on Lauler’s control issues and depression. Hang in there. Once it gets moving, it’s fascinating and goes in unexpected directions. There is so much meat in this story, so much to encourage personal reflection and make us wonder about our own legacies—not for the sake of vanity—but for the sake of self-improvement and finding the best ways to enrich our lives and live each day to its fullest.
If you don’t mind graphic everything, check out Spenser Confidential. Loads of action, smarty-pants humor, and a guy who just wants to do the right thing. But beware of the girlfriend.
I love Regency romances and mysteries, but I don’t know enough about the history of the period to keep everything straight. Luckily for me, my good friend M. L. Rigdon (aka Julia Donner) agreed to a Q & A to help promote her latest novel, MORE THAN A MILKMAID.
Help me welcome her to my blog. She’s my critique partner and close friend, and I’m also a huge fan of her writing—and not just because I’m prejudiced. I’m pretty picky about what I consider good writing. Not that anyone would know that. I simply don’t review books I don’t like or admire. And I admire her work. Her latest novel, MORE THAN A MILKMAID, is one of my favorites.
Thanks so much for asking me here today! And yes, you are biased, but for my latest venture into the Regency world, it may have to do with you providing the…
Lately I’d been thinking about a friend I hadn’t heard from in a few years, Allen Etter, artist, teacher, film director, author, and innovative writer of Christian Science Fiction. I don’t know about the genre now, but when Allen wrote Entropy Gate, I’d never read anything like it. As I searched out his website to see if he still taught at the university, I was saddened to learn that he had died, quite young at 52.
Publishers of Christian fiction were not interested when Allen wrote EG. You don’t have to be Christian or interested in science fiction to enjoy Entropy Gate or its sequel, Beyond. He illustrated his own graphic novels with his distinctive graceful/grotesque talent. I always admired his ability to evoke movement in his paintings.
Allen was invested in his faith, his family, and artistry. I admired the way his brain processed art in practical applications. One of his first webpages was of the girl on the cover of Entropy Gate and accessing the site by entering her sparkling green eye.
I remember best the wisdom in Allen’s large, dark eyes, his graceful hands, and his physical presence. At 6’7, he filled up surrounding space but he was never intimidating, more like cuddly. He listened with care and carried with him a quiet, inner burden. I enjoyed talking about fencing, which we both had studied, he being the better fencer.
Allen leaves behind sons and a wife he adored. I am sorry I hadn’t talked to him recently but have his art, books, the appreciation of his encouragement of my beginning efforts. Please check out his works on Amazon and enjoy his many exceptional talents. My glowing reviews were removed when it was discovered that we were friends, but he’s left some of them behind for us to admire. One of my favorites is a rendition of Batman: