The Last Witch Hunter (2015)

On the surface, The Last Witch Hunter feels like Vin Diesel playing Vin Diesel in a Vin Diesel film, produced by Vin Diesel. And you may very well come away with that perspective, once you’re through. But if my writing program has taught me anything, it’s that the story takes precedence and it’s your job to tell the story to the best of your ability.

The premise of the story is something I hadn’t seen before. The Last Witch Hunter is based on Vin’s Dungeons & Dragons character that he has played nearly all his life. I wonder what stats he earned doing this movie.

I’m kidding.

The story begins over 800 years ago. Led by an elder named Dolan, Vin’s character Kaulder and the remaining men in his village (a generic Viking community that is never named) are charged with hunting down the Witch Queen. She’s only known by her title; she’s never given a name but is given all of the formality of the title by her kinsmen. In my writing program, someone would say, “why doesn’t she have a name? Boo!”

I think it was fascinating to know her only by her name. When you name something – like Rumplestiltskin – shit’s about to go down. I think it was a craft choice to know her only by her title. She is incredibly powerful and completely threatened by the presence of humanity. She has brought a plague down on them and laid waste to Kaulder’s wife Helena and their daughter Elizabeth. Obviously, when deciding to join the hunting party, Kaulder has nothing to lose. Kaulder kills her but she curses him with immortality.

There’s a voiceover by Michael Caine which sums up where we are in the story when we are brought to the present day. Dolan has become a hereditary title and they have been charged with keeping Kaulder on the straight and narrow through their secret society, the Axe and the Cross, with its heavy Christian imagery. Michael Caine’s character is the 36th Dolan. Kaulder has been entrusted with a mission to help keep the human world separate from the witch world, due to a pact that was forged sometime after Kaulder became immortal.

So in terms of story, it wasn’t anything new. Isn’t it always some savior character who has to save humanity from itself, or a dark power that has been sleeping for ages? I was kind of hoping they would twist the conventions of witches in pop culture as we know them a little bit. However, the filmmakers don’t paint witchcraft as black and white.

There is an uneasy peace between Kaulder and the witches. He wears a bracelet with the symbol of the Axe and Cross, and they all know who he is even if they have never met each other before. He only punishes those who flaunt their presence because that would break the truce between humanity and the witches.

The introduction of Rose Leslie’s Chloe feels like we’ve seen it all before. She is a witch who owns a bar and Kaulder goes to her for assistance. She doesn’t willingly give it but joins his mission when she has no other place to go. Chloe is a dream walker, which is considered a power for dark witches only. However, throughout the film, Chloe proves that she isn’t a dark witch, even though she was born with those powers. Witchcraft is shown as evil but how the witch practices it, depends on each individual.

Looking back, every ounce of me believed Chloe was going to assert her allegiance to witchcraft and bow before the Witch Queen. The person who does end up betraying Kaulder because you can’t have a fantasy popcorn flick without betrayal against the hero was kind of like, “duh, I should’ve seen that coming.” I spent the whole time so focused on Chloe that I didn’t think the betrayer would do that. That was my fault. I turned my critical eye to the wrong person.

The action was excellent. The jump scares were needed for a bit of levity, in terms of the heaviness of the mythology that they throw at you. You really have to hold onto the mythology as you go. We’ve discussed that in writing workshops. As a writer, the mythology of your story is yours to do with as you see fit, but as long as you establish it early and stick to it, no one will be able to fault you. Now, how clearly fleshed out that mythology is and if it works is in the hands of the reader is a different beast.

Another thing that came up in my head as I was watching was “Why now?” Why are we following Kaulder at this point in time after 800 years of him doing this thing that he does? Why didn’t we meet him earlier in his journey? I don’t know if I bought the film’s reasons why by the end of the story, although within the mythology it makes perfect sense.

I’m also unsure if I bought the chemistry between Kaulder and Chloe. You’ve spent 800 years policing witches and this one is the one that cracked your veneer? Maybe that’s because I don’t see Vin as a sexual being. All the action movies I’ve seen him in make him out to be sexy without the act of having sex if that makes sense. Seeing him with a woman onscreen is somehow off-putting to me. This is funny because I grew up in the era of action films where the hero always wins the woman.

I hear there is a sequel brewing, but like all things in life, subject to change.

atomic blonde featured image

Atomic Blonde (2017)

Atomic Blonde is a thrill ride.

The movie takes place amid the fall of the Berlin Wall, but the filmmakers embraced The Coldest City (paid link) graphic novel source material full force. They played it close to its comic book roots rather than relying on reality. I was six when it came down, but I legit remember when and where I was when the Wall fell. But the way Charlize filled every frame, the way James McAvoy chewed the scenery, the way they lit it had the aroma of a comic book panel. Every frame is a painting. I liked that.

The sets they used for the late 80s Berlin felt so fake, but they made that world work in a good way. So, props to the filmmakers for embracing that. So many movies based on graphic novels (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World – paid link – nailed that comic book-y world, too) take the cinematic elements of the source material and try to put it in the real world. The filmmakers didn’t do that with this movie, and it worked well. I was impressed. You never once forgot that you were watching a real-life comic book.

Buy this on Bookshop & support indie shops!

The fight training was heavily grounded in reality, though Charlize said that she never full-on punches anybody during the press tour. Instead, she uses objects to take the brunt of her power. If she were to full force sock it to somebody, she risked shattering her whole hand. It was comical the way she used some of the objects. You’ll never use your car keys the same way again.

As far as the writing goes, I enjoyed the subversion of the spy trope. It’s always spy vs. spy when it comes to stories in that world, but it’s spy vs. spy vs. spy vs. spy. But it’s not in a straight line, someone is playing someone else, who’s playing the first person, but then there’s this dude disguised as another dude. I loved it.

The director of John Wick: Chapter I bowed out of Chapter 2 to develop this picture. Keanu ended up training for Chapter 2 alongside Charlize since they were filming concurrently, and they go way back. There were rumors that they would try for a crossover with John Wick, and I thought that was a great idea because I love Keanu and Charlize’s chemistry.

But after seeing Atomic Blonde, it doesn’t make logistical sense. They don’t even take place simultaneously unless they introduce some time travel plot device, and I will scream bloody murder if they try. They both work in their own respective, stand-alone worlds. What is up with a pop culture where everything has to crossover nowadays? This opinion is coming from a Marvel fan who wants the film series to acknowledge the TV series somehow.

Now to my complaints. I’m probably the only person this affected, but music is a massive part of the movie-going experience. It should enhance the movie, not take people out of it. You hear the Funeral March of a Marionette, and you immediately think of Alfred Hitchcock. That’s just how it is.

I wish they would’ve called me to help with the soundtrack because they did what Watchmen did. But, unfortunately, they relied on songs reminiscent of the time rather than actual charted songs from the year the movie takes place: November 1989.

  • 1981’s Under Pressure by David Bowie
  • 1981’s Der Kommissar (though I think this was a cover because it wasn’t Falco singing, and not the ATF version either)
  • 1983’s Blue Monday by New Order
  • 1983’s 99 Luftballons by Nena
  • 1985’s Voices Carry by ’til tuesday

They were the ones I recognized that I could recall. I’m pretty sure I heard a Clash song, but I could be projecting. 1988’s Father Figure by George Michael gets a pass, only because it’s marginally close to the date. But, I went back to check Billboard Year-End Hot 100 singles of 1989, and aesthetically, none of these songs would have worked for the era of the movie. So, they get a pass for the marginally accurate soundtrack. But, not much.

Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933) / House of Wax (1953)

I decided to do a double feature of the original Mystery of the Wax Museum and its 50s remake, House of Wax.

Mystery is a fun 30s romp, on the surface. It was a suspenseful thriller, and it hooks you from the first punch to Igor’s face. I liked the pacing. It didn’t fill the time with useless backstory or filler montage scenes as we expect in modern films. It was nonstop action. I think that’s what I appreciate about movies back in the day. They didn’t waste anyone’s time with nonsense. Michael Curtiz was a masterful director, later directing Casablanca and Mildred Pierce, among many others.

Igor’s backstory reminded me of the Pygmalion myth, where the creator falls in love with his creation. You could say Mystery takes the Pygmalion myth further when he takes a human being devoid of humanity and turns them into creatures (the judge into Voltaire, Joan Gale into St. Joan of Arc). I love exploring the idea that society is controlled and harnessed to live forever in art.

What is unique about the film is the power the women hold. The villains from Mystery fall into the same gender slots: we figure out the disfigured Igor’s motivation, and wax is the only thing preserving the appearance of humanity. Professor Darcy is a junkie and follows Igor’s directives because he is guaranteed his next fix. Drugs are bad, m’kay?

Hugo is a deaf-mute and must follow his master’s orders or try and find someone else to accept his imperfections. I love that dynamic. He’s guaranteed room and board, so long as he keeps Igor’s dreadful secret. No one would question Hugo, and no one would go so far as to harbor a deaf-mute back in those days. The autonomy of the villains is fascinating and probably not thought of much.

The affections of Joe Worth – the millionaire playboy suspected of murdering Joan Gale – change as soon as he meets Florence. This plot point brings me to my following observation. I felt the way that Florence’s love life played out was poor. She establishes her goals in life quite early in the film that she’s all about being a legit reporter and having fun, and if Florence is going to marry, she’s going to marry for money. So she interviews Worth in jail and dazzles him. But, unfortunately, she’s a sassy broad, and he wants to strap on the old ball and chain and marry her within 24 hours of their initial meeting.

Of course, my feminist lens became further blurred with annoyance when her editor-in-chief’s final directive was “act like a lady and marry me.” Rude. He spent the whole film maligning her work, going as far as to fire her for lack of good stories. He spends the entire movie telling her she wasn’t good enough. The moment she shows her mettle, then he goes, “oh, a worthy opponent. She should be my wife!” She shoves Worth aside in favor of the editor. I much prefer Worth for her because he was a guy guaranteed to take care of and love her without any pretension.

It’s technically a Pre-Code film, so I’m a little off-put by the happily ever after we Americans are so famous for now. I only like HEAs if they make sense. She should’ve married for money, that’s all I’m saying. At least she could continue being a reporter. Then, she wouldn’t have to worry about financing her lifestyle. Yes, I know I am looking at this with a modern lens, but I want to believe.

It’s technically a lost film, and the distributed print is a poor man’s copy of the original Technicolor. However, the Technicolor saturation was awful, as noted by other reviews and Wikipedia. So, of course, that’s the copy I have since I have the bundled version of Mystery and House. It’s okay. Some of the colors are a bit jarring but don’t detract all that much. It only becomes an annoyance when you know to look for it.

House of Wax follows the original plot of Mystery with some slight changes. I don’t wish to dwell too much on that aspect. I preferred Mystery over House, to be honest.

Buy this on Bookshop & support indie shops!

I caught the opening title cards where it announced it was mastered for 3-D. When it was first released, it was the first successful 3-D picture. Fascinating. You can always tell when a movie slathers on the 3-D. I was like, “why is this annoying guy with the paddle ball breaking the third wall right now?”

Then my brain looped my thoughts together: viewers were supposed to see his character in 3-D. How exciting it must’ve been to see that in a theater. I personally and professionally hate 3-D. You might as well give the people Smellovision. But this movie came out in 1953. The novelty must’ve made for a fun theater-going experience.

I loved Vincent Price’s performance as Professor Jarrod. I think he carries the picture. The evolution of his character was fun to see play out too. He embraces the horror that he has to live with every day. I’m glad Mr. Wallace called him out on it. I would think something was amiss if an artist changed his point of view so rapidly like that. I kept looking at Igor and tried to place him every time he came onscreen. I finally had to look it up. Charles Bronson played him!! You can’t miss that chin.

I think the cops in this film were more believable than Mystery, however. I will give it that. They did detective work rather than having a newspaper lady character kick rocks. I was thoroughly annoyed by the vapid Cathy character. I did feel bad that she had to die in that manner to become Joan of Arc, though.

From the feminist side, you can see who owns this version of the story. That’s right, THE MEN. Pfft. They dominate this story. I didn’t feel anything for Sue, even though she was a massive part of the story moving forward. She had an even lesser status than Florence. At least Florence was brassy enough to keep making noise. The filmmakers diminished Sue to where her fears were merely troublesome for the men in charge because she was a lady.

The difference between Sue and Florence is that Florence didn’t let her gender stop her. She kept busting balls. For Florence, she had something to prove to everyone. Sue cried from the grief of losing Cathy the whole time, and the men only kicked rocks to shut her up. A part of me hoped House would genuinely become a horror picture and refuse the happily ever after for Sue. I had no sympathy for her and hoped she would die. So you can see how the Production Code had a significant influence on movies. Remember that only 20 years elapsed between Mystery and House.

Maybe that’s why they remade it: to remind women of their place in a horror picture.

Suspiria (1977)

Suspiria crashed into my heart like a trainwreck, and I refused to look away. It combines my biggest fears: dogs that attack their owners (I love dogs so much, how could they ever hate me enough to take my life?), maggots (I’m a clean freak, and if I saw a larva, I would lose my shit), barbed wire (I grew up in the country, ain’t nobody got time for that), and ballerinas (enough said).

I was familiar with the performers of the soundtrack Goblin because of their involvement with Romero’s Dawn of the Dead (paid link). The original Dawn is one of my favorite films of all time, regardless of genre. My heart dropped into my stomach whenever the music kicked in. Music kicks me in the teeth no matter what the situation, but to have a film so intricately intertwined with its music is rare.

There’s always decent noise during movies. But when you have a director that had heavy involvement with the scoring of a picture, it makes the entire experience a lot of fun. Sometimes, a soundtrack will make you go, “what?” It will pull you out of the scene, ruining the experience. Goblin’s soundtrack adds to the horror. So disjointed and melodically un-melodic, if that makes sense.

Buy this on Bookshop & support indie shops!

I think the great horror storylines are the ones that use real people, in real situations, who find themselves mixed up in the supernatural accidentally. Now you can put forward the argument that “hey stupid, that’s the basis of all horror films.” But I don’t think that’s the case.

Rosemary’s Baby does that: the horror comes from the fact that it’s so grounded in reality.

2006’s The Covenant is entirely supernatural – and while filled with beautiful people – it simply doesn’t play off well.

Suzy – the final girl – holds the accidentally supernatural card in spades. She’s an American dancer who decides to further her dance studies in Germany. We realize quickly that this fish out of water has fallen headlong into a bottomless pit of the supernatural.

She begins to experience and witness strange happenings personally. Despite seeing a former student kicked out and hearing of her murder within 24 hours of her arrival, Suzy doesn’t turn tail and run. I probably would. She continues. Of course, if she did end up going home, we wouldn’t have a film to watch!

The key to her survival is knowledge, so even though bad things are happening, she keeps pressing forward. The film doesn’t explain why; it moves forward naturally. We don’t get into Suzy’s head at all. I didn’t feel anything for her. Why do you want to stay in a place you know is wrong? She has nothing to gain other than destroying the coven, but they didn’t decide that until the last five minutes. It was them, or her.

The gore was delicious. The first death was shot through with German Expressionism, with the color turned up to 11. I did some research, and it was one of the last films done in Technicolor. Fascinating! The jagged pieces of glass, bold lines, the color scheme, the blood. I had an overwhelming need to see it unfold. It was beautiful.

In another nod to the unsettling, the mural in the head’s office was a lovely homage to MC Escher and reminded me of German Expressionism as well. Den of Geek has a screenshot of it if you want to see what I’m talking about.

As stated earlier, the dog turning on its master got under my skin. The soundtrack during this scene was so unsettling. Goblin did a phenomenal job. I had to hold my dog extra tight as the scene played out because if he did that to me – as much as his tiny Shih Tzu frame possibly could – it’d be a well-deserved death. I’ll try not to discuss the maggots or barbed wire scenes much because you should see it yourself! I would keep an eye out.

Suspiria is my first foray into Italian Giallo horror. So I know I can’t take the premium of the lot and expect the others in the genre to be the same. But I enjoyed the experience and can’t wait to consume more.

Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

Rosemary’s Baby is a movie everyone assumes you’ve seen if you claim to be a student of film. I don’t think I’ve ever discussed it in casual conversation. I spoiled myself silly years ago because of random Wiki surfing. However, I never deigned to sit down & watch it until my inaugural 31 Days of Fear film festival.

I won’t say much from a film-making perspective. No point in rehashing what the critics have said. Most likely I would end up agreeing with them. It plays well and isn’t terribly dated. Apparently, it was a faithful adaptation. I won’t mention its director either, all things considered.

From a feminist perspective, I think it’s a powerful film that preys on a woman’s worst fear: the ownership of our bodies. They are used to create life. We are biologically created to carry a child to term, whether it actually happens or not. Who truly knows what kind of life we’re creating? Will the kid be evil, will it be a saint? We simply don’t know. We’re vessels. We have to trust in whatever higher power – if we believe in that sort of thing – that the child we created will be okay from beginning to end.

Buy this on Bookshop & support indie shops!

The destruction of Rosemary is a fascinating story as it unfolds. From the horrible night that she conceived to the actual birth drives home what feminism has been fighting for since the beginning of consciousness: my body is my own. We shouldn’t have to fear its use for demonic purposes, for political gain, or anything of that sort. We shouldn’t have to fear it at all. It shouldn’t be a weapon. It should simply be allowed to be without labels, without laws, without borders.

The theme of helplessness with the female body is wrapped up in a supernatural horror film. It could have been a drama, could have been a science fiction film, it could have been anything. Imagine for a moment that we removed the supernatural bits and stripped it down to a sketchy pregnancy. The fear remains.

A young mother fears for her life during her first pregnancy, one that she didn’t have any say in from conception. No one wants to hear what she has to say about her body. She knows something is wrong: the cravings are unusual, she is losing weight and has become sickly pale. You’ve got a male obstetrician who refuses to address your concerns, and your husband refuses to agree to a second opinion and seems entirely wrapped up in his own shit to worry about you. That’s powerful stuff, no matter how you frame it.

In the immediate moments of finishing up the picture, my knee-jerk reaction was: I really don’t want kids if this is something I am going to need to worry about. I then realized I was being silly, and that life will march on despite any reservations we may have about it. Women not being in control of our bodies is a very real issue today, and that is what we should take away from this picture. Rosemary’s Baby was screened in 1966. The disgusting truth is that we still have reason to fear the forces that are supposed to protect us during a pregnancy in 2013 when I first watched this film.

This is why I love watching movies, making my own movies, and daydreaming about them all day long. The good ones get under your skin and make you think. That’s all a creative mind should strive for: getting under someone’s skin to draw them out of their comfort zone. Art isn’t pretty. It’s not safe. It should rip you to your basest instincts, whether you’re producing it, or consuming it. Tearing down the walls we build to protect ourselves from each other is what makes being a creative person worthwhile.

A House of My Own by Sandra Cisneros

I timed my reading of “A House of My Own” (paid link) by Sandra Cisneros so that I would finish it before I saw her speak via Zoom at the 2021 Las Vegas Book Festival for their NEA Big Read presentation. I ended up scoring a signed copy of “A House on Mango Street.” It’s earned a treasured spot on my bookshelf.

The talk itself invigorated me. It was skewed more towards teachers but I just sat there and soaked up what she had to say. She’s such a tough old bird. I Tweeted her three pieces of advice, which I share here for you to have as well:

  1. Make your own money
  2. Control your fertility
  3. Embrace solitude

I’m three for three so far, so I’m on the right path.

Buy “A House of My Own” on Bookshop.org & support indie bookstores!

I’ve read a lot of and been exposed to a ton of authors over the years being a student of English literature. A lot of them were unrelatable to me, not that I’m the type of reader that can’t separate the fictitious life of a character from the author that wrote about them.

More like, authors who weren’t like me, didn’t grow up in two different cultures, the only child in a big family without children, a woman who chose to make her living by her pen and found it to be a more fulfilling life.

I immediately gravitated to Sandra when I read “Mango Street” (paid link) for a class in undergrad. Esperanza carried the world on her shoulders as small as Mango Street was to her but her and her community’s story touches everyone who reads it. You have to be an automaton not to feel something after finishing that novel.

But “A House of My Own” cut me to the bone. For as long as I can remember, I’ve always wanted a place to call my home. Sure, I’ve always had a roof over my head or food in my stomach, but they weren’t locations of my choosing. It was always my parents looking out for me. I’m grateful for that, but there’s something about earning your way in the world.

I’m a naturally selfish person. You kind of have to be when you grow up the fourth of five children. Everything in our family – and our Filipino culture – is share and share alike. Why can’t I have something that I didn’t have to share with anyone else? That was mine, that I earned from the blood, sweat, and tears of my hard work? That’s the American Dream, right?

I was in awe as I consumed her words. It was like speaking to an old friend about the ups and downs of life. I cried many times because she was saying everything in my heart that I thought I had worked through over the years. There are certain aspects of my past that are what they are; they made me who I am.

Sometimes I wish I had taken a different path, that I had turned left instead of right. The book made me appreciate the realization that I took the right turn because it was right for me right then. Those moments don’t define me; the journey does, and the journey is what’s going to get the words on the page.

Admittedly, that’s the hardest part of being a writer but I can’t imagine doing anything else in my life. I’m going to get a house of my own someday. I don’t care how small or how long it’s going to take. It’s happening. And the words spilling from my fingers are what’s going to fund it.

Winchester (2018)

I have been keeping up with the press for the movie since the announcement. I almost went so far as to watch the premiere at the actual Winchester Mystery House. That meant touring the mansion, enjoying a reception, and then walking across the street to CineArts on Santana Row to watch it. I’m a huge fan of Mrs. Winchester. I’ve owned annual passes to the House over the years. The house is one of the best examples of Queen Anne architecture that survives to this day.

Mrs. Sarah Winchester married into the Winchester Repeating Arms Company family for those who don’t know her story. Her husband and daughter died, and she inherited her wealth upon his death. Her doctor recommended that she move from the East Coast to the West Coast. She settled in San Jose, California, for its Mediterranean weather, which helped keep her persistent health issues in check.

She felt possessed by ghosts and spirits killed by the Winchester weapon and thus became the start of her extraordinary story. Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, save for holidays, Mrs. Winchester had workers building and then breaking down what they built, based on her seances with ghosts. It wasn’t all that bad. Most of them lived on-site, brought their families. It was good work for the 19th century going into 20th century America. The house itself is a technological marvel of the time. She used the latest tech, stuff we take for granted today. I can’t even list them all here!

The film itself had the appropriate horror and thriller, without being too corny or too over the top. I’m not one for out-and-out gorefests in my horror flicks, and Winchester filled that need. However, horror’s not supposed to be just slapstick jump scares for horror’s sake; it’s supposed to reflect the darkness of human nature, make us uncomfortable, make us question reality.

The plot itself took the standard approach of bringing an outsider into an established universe, which Jason Clarke’s Dr. Eric Price does. The Winchester Repeating Arms Company engages his services to address the mental stability of Mrs. Winchester. However, the good doctor had an interesting backstory, and it played out believably on-screen.

I loved Helen Mirren as Mrs. Winchester. The real Mrs. Winchester is much shorter than Helen; she barely cleared 4 feet, if memory serves me correctly. That’s why there’s a staircase in the house with impossibly small steps. I had hoped they would address that, but again, artistic license. So I’m cool with that.

I already knew the villain was a villain because the filmmakers lit him in one specific scene. I won’t say anything else, but look out for that.

I loved how they incorporated actual bits of the house, such as the Tiffany windows, the Shakespeare windows in the ballroom, the rooftop, the kitchen, the Door to Nowhere, the beautiful entryway, the spiderwebs. But there’s so much more they missed. So honestly, if the movie piqued your interest, take a trip to see the actual house. You won’t be disappointed.

All in all, if you’re looking to have a fun night out, give Winchester a shot. I genuinely enjoyed it. It took great liberties with Mrs. Winchester’s story, but who’s to say this stuff couldn’t have happened? Maybe I’m drinking the Kool-Aid, but I do think she had a connection to the ghosts. I mean, wouldn’t you feel her guilt eventually, too? It’s not a perfect movie, but it was an enjoyable way to provide you with a glimpse into the source material.

Bonus

These are some of my favorite pics of the Winchester I’ve taken over the years. Enjoy!

The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

The novel was published in 1920 about 1870s New York society. It’s fascinating how one look, one casual phrase, could destroy a person’s entire reputation. I think that’s still true, but we can start over somewhere else and bounce back for the most part. If someone is ruined (the Beauforts, more so Regina than Julius, highlighting the gender discrimination of the time), it’s unheard of.

The specter of New York looms as its own character in the novel, and all of its citizens play their lives out so spectacularly. Wharton paints this wonderfully manipulative underbelly even while its inhabitants breed their discontent as it has been done for generations before.

I honestly have no gripes. The phrasing, the pacing. It reads incredibly well today. I think it is interesting that we see the novel strictly through Newland’s lens, so what he thinks he sees isn’t necessarily what’s there. Yet he spends the novel bashing how others can’t see what he sees, especially when explaining his mother and Janey’s favorite pastime: inviting Sillerton Jackson over for dinner to have a gossip.

Buy this book on Bookshop & support indie bookstores!

As the narrator, Newland represents how we treat people ourselves even in this day and age. We all wear masks. The one we choose to present publicly is generally vastly different from the one we wear privately. No one is an open book, no matter how much they claim to be. Yet, we judge everyone based on their public masks. It was ridiculous then and is now.

Wharton captures that unsettled feeling with the Madame Olenska character completely. She’s unaccustomed to American society, and she does things that piss people off, yet no one wants to explain why it’s inappropriate. I sympathize with her character completely.

Newland absolutely is a product of his background. I loved that he didn’t realize until the last moment that he was being played by May. He notes a few times in the course of the novel that he sees her struggling through the fog of her brain, trying to form an opinion. I honestly believe May knows exactly what she was doing. He said several times throughout the story that May is a clone of her mother, Mrs. Welland. Mrs. Welland knows how to play the game. Seeing May play it the way that she does is par for the course if you ask me.

He spends the novel talking down about everyone and doesn’t realize that maybe they’re all feeling as stifled as he is. But they’re satisfied with their lot in life. They were born into this life. Why judge someone on that? I don’t denigrate him for that. However, as educated and as open-eyed as he claims to be, he really is as naive as the rest of them.

I am glad that his romantic inner life is validated by seeing his own children live their lives. What once would have been considered uncouth (i.e., Dallas marrying Fanny) is accepted without any criticism. It’s amazing how quickly culture and society are changed from generation to generation. We see this today. The world our parents grew up in is nothing like how it is for us. Our children will not live the life that we do. We may try to pass on values and opinions, but the future will march on, taking the good from the previous and casting away the bad.

The Three Musketeers (2011)

I didn’t have high expectations for this movie, even with an all-star cast of Christoph Waltz, Matthew Mcfadyen, Ray Stevenson, Luke Evans, Milla Jovovich, Mads Mikkelsen, Logan Lerman, Orlando Bloom (in supreme supervillain mode, excited to 11), or a cameo by Til Schweiger.

It was a fun romp nonetheless. It didn’t add any mystique to the Musketeer pantheon, but I don’t believe it took away any prestige. Unfortunately, that’s all we can ask of our adaptations nowadays.

Compared to other Musketeer adaptations, this film wholly embraces the swashbuckling romance we come to expect from a Musketeer movie. But the action was very post-Crouching Tiger, East meets West, like The Musketeer (paid link) with Justin Chambers.

The filmmakers used Xiong Xinxin, Jet Li’s stuntmen, as their choreographer in that film. I know my prior observation sounds like I see this as a detriment, but I don’t. If anything, it lends credence to the source material. We must fall back to the excellent literature for the stories, even with advancing the technologically improbable in period movies where ordinary people can run up walls and do it in slow motion.

My only genuine complaint is with the dialogue, which was cliched. When Athos (Matthew Mcfadyen) says, “anyone who tells you otherwise is either a fool or trying to sell you something,” my cheese antennae went off the charts. I felt it oversimplified the rage he truly felt.

It fit in the context of the film, but I almost felt it was a disservice to the source to make the language modern. It rubbed me the wrong way. On the other hand, with the action being so modernized, I suppose the language had to follow suit. I am torn and have no outlet to reconcile my feelings!

Another thing about the story is how quickly we fall back to Leonardo Da Vinci as the go-to MacGuffin in adventure movies. Surely there must be another reason to propel a story without falling back to Da Vinci and the hope that his machines would bring. I honestly don’t care about him as a precognizant inventor anymore. Yawn.

The rivalry between Mads Mikkelsen’s Rochefort and Lerman’s D’Artagnan was hilarious to watch, although I didn’t feel there was much there. Furthermore, the complete Indiana Jones introduction of Rochefort? Very funny. Shoot first, ask questions later!

I like how they explained Logan’s American accent away by saying he was from Gascon. I don’t think there was much chemistry between Logan and Gabriella Wilde either. She played Constance Bonacieux, one of Queen Anne’s (the lovely Juno Temple) ladies-in-waiting. She was a little dull for me.

You know me, I want the females in the movies I watch for pushing the boundaries, even if movies are a man’s world and they cannot write well for a woman. Luckily, Milla Jovovich as Milady nailed it for me. She chewed up every scene she was in and spat it out with glee. Again, I believe her dialogue could’ve been better, but her husband wrote and directed this movie. She looked beautiful, as only a loving husband could frame his wife. And she was damned if she didn’t sell me on her overall awesomeness.

The movie ended on a cliffhanger, opening the door for a sequel. However, I have to agree with Milla; the production company Summit dropped the ball promoting this movie. It could’ve been much more than the promotional campaign made it out to be at all.

I want to see the Duke of Buckingham (Orlando Bloom) and his fleet of ships and fancy new airships frolic about too. Not quite sure if they could use Twenty Years Later directly, or if they’ll stay within the first book to keep the story going or go entirely off the rails and have it be a truly historically accurate epic picture.

Also: Christoph Waltz for president! I wish he could’ve had more to do as Cardinal Richelieu. He’s so unique, and I’d buy an audiobook of him reading the phone book, no joke.

Remember Me by Mary Higgins Clark

Back when I was a wee little Gilly, my Ma got roped into a subscription for Reader’s Digest Condensed Books. This novel appeared in vol. 217 in 1995, when I was 12. I didn’t have the luxury of going to the library often as a child. It truly was a treat, because it wasn’t a thing that I was allowed to do often.

My Ma never had time to take me to the library because she had other things to do, and keeping my rambunctious kid brother in line at the library was damn near impossible. Our activities had to be a joint event. If it only served one of us, we didn’t do it at all. She was also financially averse to library fees because I would forget when they were due. So how do you keep fees at bay? Don’t check them out in the first place.

That’s why I’m big on libraries as an adult. Don’t EVER take for granted that you have access to a library. The books I got at the school library were devoured before they left campus, so I never had anything to read by the time I got home. I had books of my own but they were rare and eventually fell apart from the rereads.

Buy this book on Bookshop & support indie bookstores!

I distinctly remember doing a book report on Remember Me because I was enamored of the story! Historical events influencing the present has always fascinated me, as a reader and a writer.

Anyways, I recall my teacher politely telling me that I deserved the A+ grade she gave me ’cause I rocked that report. However, because it was a condensed version, I should strongly consider reading the real thing, and never turn in another book report on a condensed version of a book ever again, haha. To me, a story is a story, and it didn’t matter what form it came in. I continue to think that way in the physical vs. Kindle debate. Quit gatekeeping reading, folks!

I had thought of the book off and on since I first read it, and I finally got around to rereading it as an adult. I think it could have used some fine-tuning in a workshop, to be honest. No rose-colored glasses for me.

And though I knew what was going to happen, I kept turning the pages.

After the novel ended, it made me wonder how suspense works a number on our brains as a genre. What about it propels us to keep our eyes peeled for clues, read between the lines when a character says something, and maybe overlook how the plot unfolds.

Truth be told, I did enjoy the full version, and take my seventh grade English teacher’s word for it: don’t read condensed versions!