Category: movies

A New Tolkien Super Fan

Over the holiday break, I had one main goal: watch the entirety of the extended editions of both Hobbit and Lord of the Rings trilogies. (What can I say? My wants in life are simple.) I watched them in what I feel is the best order: Hobbit first, followed by Lord of the Rings.

(A quick aside here. I realize the Hobbit trilogy got a fair bit of hate from the geek community, and rewatching them just barely, I feel like this hate is unearned. Are they as good as LOTR? No. But not everything can be “Only Fantasy Movie to Ever Win Best Picture” good. That’s okay. People criticized it for having an Elf/Dwarf romance, though LOTR is full of an Elf/Human romance and we’re all cool with it. Yes, I realize one was “canon” and the other wasn’t, and I realize many of the gripes with Hobbit come down to it exploding a simple child’s book into an epic trilogy o’warfare. But I believe if you look at it as a prequel to LOTR and not as just a Hobbit adaptation, it works wonderfully. And if you watch it first as a lead up to LOTR, it all meshes together great. I love all six movies. Period.)

This time through, I let my older two kids watch the movies. Tomas is 14, so it was a no-brainer to let him watch, but DC is just 10, and I debated some before giving her the green light. (She’s watched plenty of Marvel movies, so it wasn’t much of a debate, but still.) Both of them enjoyed the movies, but I was really surprised to see who ended up loving them the most.

DC became a huge Tolkien fan the moment she saw the Elves. She’s started writing stories about dwarves and elves. She’s learning how to write the Tengwar alphabet. She’s halfway through listening to Fellowship on audio. (She says it’s the best thing she’s ever read, including Percy Jackson, her previous favorite.) She asked if we could watch all the “making of” documentaries, and she’s enjoying all of them.

She’s a big, big fan.

It’s been fun watching her catch fire for the series, and great that there’s so much for her to dive into. She’s working on learning Elvish grammar even. I’m not sure if this fire will continue to burn, but seeing as how we have 6 movies’ worth of special features to get through, I imagine it’ll last at least a few more months.

Everyone needs to find the things they love on their own. Some things I’ve trotted out for my kids and been a bit sad when they didn’t love them as much as I did. But every now and then, you have your kids end up loving stuff even more than you do.

And that’s a great feeling, speaking as a librarian. I think a lot of us got into the business because we like connecting people with things that are perfect for them, whether it’s information, books, movies, or music. With DC and LOTR, I hit a home run.


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What are Your Favorite Westerns or Steampunk Movies?

Since I’m writing a steampunk western now, I’m in “immerse myself in the genre” mode. I like to watch different films that intersect with what I’m writing. I’m not all that up to date on steampunk movies. I’ve seen a smattering of them, and I like the general vibe of them, but they’re mostly an unknown to me (from what I remember.) Westerns are something a bit better versed in, dating back to watching them all the time as a kid. (One of my favorite college classes was on film adaptations of westerns. That was a fantastic class.)

So I’m up for any and all steampunk movies. (And yes, before you ask, I’ve watched Wild Wild West. Hopefully I end up with something better than that . . .) I mean, I’ve seen steampunk movies, but none are really standing out in my head as movies I’d like to return to again and again. Maybe they’re just eluding me.

When it comes to westerns, I’d love recommendations as well. Here are my top 10 westerns:

  1. Shane
  2. Unforgiven
  3. High Noon
  4. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
  5. True Grit (Coen Bros adaptation)
  6. Silverado
  7. Rio Bravo
  8. The Magnificent Seven (old version)
  9. The Searchers
  10. Tombstone

To get on this list, I have to be able to remember the movie well enough to tell you what it was about, as opposed to all the other westerns I have seen. So I’m looking for something that sets it apart. But more than that, I’m looking for a real western. So Blazing Saddles was out, even though I love the movie. Same for Maverick, honestly. It wasn’t Western enough. Too funny. (Though I’d like this book to have some humor in it.)

I’ve seen many more westerns. (Yes, The Good the Bad and the Ugly), but these are the ones that I’d be most eager to watch again at the moment. Feels like there should be some Eastwood up there, though. Pale Rider? Outlaw Josey Wales? I’m happy to talk Westerns all the time, so it’ll be an interesting process to write one and see what comes out.

In the meantime, what made your top 10 list for westerns? Please share.

For a great overview of another list, check out this one by Cinefix. I love these:


Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve been posting my book ICHABOD in installments, as well as chapters from UTOPIA. Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

There are Plenty of Great, Original Movies Out There

One constant complaint I hear echoed across the interwebs is that the days of original movies are over. How all we get are superhero movies and sequels. And certainly there are plenty of examples of those movies to point to. I wouldn’t argue that tons of superhero movies and sequels are getting churned out by Hollywood all the time. But the way the argument’s often presented, it’s that “no good, original movies are being made.” And that’s just not true at all. Plenty of good movies are being made. They’re just not making as much money as superhero movies and sequels. So you could argue the American public has bad taste (or, at least, repetitive taste), but when has that ever really been in doubt?

And anyway, I feel like there’s a whole lot of confirmation bias going on anytime this comes up as a topic. (Confirmation bias, if you didn’t know, is when you recall or refer to information selectively in a way to prove your preconceived argument.) Let’s take science fiction movies as an example. Just in the past decade, what are some fantastic, original science fiction movies that have come out?

Arrival, Gravity, Ex Machina, The Martian, Interstellar, Inception, Wall-E, District 9, Edge of Tomorrow, Moon, Looper. That’s eleven really strong films, pretty much off the top of my head, and that’s not even going into movies that might be more “pop” like Pacific Rim.

Don’t get me wrong. I realize that the majority of the push behind films these days has been to support a few tent pole franchises, and so the Star Wars and the Marvels of the world get a whole ton of attention, while movies like Arrival or Edge of Tomorrow can come and go without making nearly as big of a splash. And so I understand the concern that if good, original movies don’t make more money, then they’ll disappear altogether.

But of course, the flip side is that there are also plenty of bad, original movies that get made. Originality is no guarantee of quality, just as being a sequel or a remake is no guarantee of the opposite. My only real desire is that good movies continue to be made. The new True Grit movie was a blast, I liked it more than the John Wayne original. I like the new Planet of the Apes movies more than the originals. Is this bad? Do I fail in movie taste? I don’t think so. Good movies are good movies.

This all is inspired by Denisa and me finally being able to watch Arrival last night. What a phenomenal movie. I thought about doing a full review, but there wasn’t a way I could do it and not include spoilers, so I thought I’d just mention how great it was here on the blog, and encourage anyone and everyone to check it out. It’s on Amazon Prime at the moment. Science fiction, linguistics, and deep thinking, all rolled up into a very accessible package. No wonder I loved it.

So to those who are worried about the fiftieth Marvel movie coming out, don’t sweat it. If Marvel movies ever stop being good, people will generally stop paying to see them. Yes, you still have movies like Transformers being made, but I have yet to feel a lack of good stuff to watch out there, whether it’s television or movies.


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Favorite Sports Movie

I’m off to another meeting in Bangor today, so time is tight. But I thought it would be interesting to have a quick discussion topic. Favorite sports movie of all time.

There are a few movies that jump to mind right away, of course. Hoosiers, Field of Dreams, Rocky, Chariots of Fire, Rudy, Caddyshack, Raging Bull. I love a good come from behind victory. I love character building stories. But I’m always amazed at some movies that I have missed.

(For example, I just asked a friend this question, and he mentioned Escape to Victory. A movie where Sylvester Stallone is a POW in a Nazi camp, and he organizes a soccer game against the Nazis to cover their escape. I have literally never heard of that movie before in my life. How have I been missing out all this time? This sounds almost as good as Over the Top, where Stallone is a truck driver entering an arm wrestling tournament.)

In any case, my personal favorite sports movie has got to be The Natural. Robert Redford. Adaptation of a fantastic book by Bernard Malamud. I must have watched that movie at least seven or eight times over the course of my life. I love everything about it. The acting The writing. The soundtrack. The story. The cinematography. Just a fantastic movie, though at this time, it probably retains the top spot out of nostalgia more than anything. Movies I watched when I was younger just have an easier time of the competing in lists like this.

Anyway. What’s your favorite? It has to be primarily about sports, but I’d love to hear what you love, and why.

Netflix Has Ditched the Star System

(“Netflix has ditched the solar system” would have sounded cooler, but what can you do?) Either which way, the days of rating movies from 1-5 stars on Netflix seem to be over. It’s reduced its user rating system to a very simple thumbs up or thumbs down decision. Did you like the movie or dislike it?

Part of me is bummed about the switch. I had been very dutiful about rating movies on Netflix, and I felt like the algorithm had me down pretty well. I could look at a movie I hadn’t heard about and have a good idea whether I would like it or not based on the anticipated rating Netflix assigned to it. I understood that sometimes that rating might be lower than usual, based on the genre. I didn’t give out many 5 star reviews to action movies, for example, just because many of them don’t warrant it. But I knew when I wanted to watch an action movie and the algorithm gave it around 4 stars, then it would be a really good one for me.

That’s all gone now. Netflix has replaced it with a new algorithm that estimates how good of a “match” a movie or TV show is to your tastes. It’s a percent score, so if they’re really sure you’ll like something, they’ll list it as 98%. That kind of thing. You can indicate what you think of a show by rating it thumbs up or thumbs down, but Netflix has decided it has something far more reliable to judge you on:

Your actual viewing habits.

It makes sense, in a very big-brothery way. Netflix has full knowledge of which shows you watch, when, on which devices. It knows the shows you start but don’t finish. It knows your secret penchant for My Little Pony binges in the middle of the night. It knows your tastes the best way that’s really possible. By keeping track of how you vote with your eyeballs.

I’m torn on this. On the one hand, it makes sense for Netflix to do it. It’s in the entertainment business, and it wants to make sure you’re happy with what you’re watching. It realized that often people wouldn’t give the shows and movies they liked best the highest ratings. Like me, other people sometimes like to watch a movie just for kicks, even if it’s not the best movie in the world. They’ll give it three stars, but they had a great time watching it. But the thing is, sometimes I want a movie that’s going to challenge me. That I’m not necessarily going to love, but which I’ll be very happy that I watched it. It’s not a popcorn flick. It’s a real piece of art.

How will Netflix manage that one? I worry it’ll keep parading the same kinds of shows and movies I often watch, instead. It’ll want to keep me happy on a steady diet of sugars and carbs, when what I really need is a fine dinner now and then. See my point?

It’s also troubling that even with the new system, when I go to “Top Picks for Bryce,” it continues to provide me with suggestions that are far less than ideal. Matches that are just 70% or 56%, leading me to believe those “top picks” are nothing more than paid ads by the content creators. Seriously–why not have the section filled with the content that’s the closest match? It seems like a no brainer.

Anyway. We’ll see how it plays out in practice. Maybe it’ll grow on me. If any of you get experience with it, chime in to let me know what you think.

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