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Jay Ruud’s Reviews

I go to a lot of movies. I also read a lot of books. So I figure, why not talk about them here? Which I do. A lot.

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Captain Marvel

Captain Marvel

Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck (2019)

The Marvel Universe’s latest installment actually prompted the online review site RottenTomatoes.com to shut down and purge early audience reviews of Captain Marvel because an overwhelming number of trolls were savaging the film before its release date, whipped into a frenzy by alt-right propagandist and conspiracy theorist Jack Posobiec who had begun a campaign against the film in response to what he claimed were anti-male comments by the film’s star Brie Larson—not incidentally the first female lead in the 21-film Marvel Universe. Among other things, Posobiec started the “Alita Challenge” on Twitter, calling for his followers to boycott Captain Marvel and to go to James Cameron’s Alita: Battle Angel instead. This past weekend, Captain Marvel opened with $153 million in domestic receipts. Alitatook in $3 million. So, how’s that boycott working out?

Larson first stomped on those sensitive masculine toes in June of 2018 when, in comments about the film A Wrinkle in Time at the Crystal and Lucy Awards, that she was most interested in hearing how the film was received by its intended audience, rather than from typical movie critics: “I don’t need a 40-year-old white dude to tell me what didn’t work about A Wrinkle in Time. It wasn’t made for him! I want to know what it meant to women of color, biracial women, to teen women of color.” Now, no matter what gender or color or age you are, you can probably agree that A Wrinkle in Time sucked, but that’s not the point. Posobic and his minions apparently read that statement as “male bashing,” perhaps because they believe that everything was made for them. In any case, the feud worsened when, at the beginning of her promotional tour for Captain Marvel, Larson, having spoken to a number of reporters who were women or people of color, agreed that these journalists were not getting the same opportunities for access to interviews, and made it a policy to allow equal access to reporters, giving her first interview to a handicapped woman of color. This, of course, was like waving a red flag in front of a white social media bull, since equal access apparently means that white men are victims. Just as, apparently, the fact that the film’s plot involves a battle against an oppressive regime bent on subduing anyone who resists its hegemony is “leftist propaganda,” according to Posobiec. It’s hard to imagine any superhero movie in which the hero supports the suppression of people by a military dictatorship, which I guess makes the entire Marvel universe a front for left wing politics.

No help in the DC universe either, since Wonder Woman, for example, tends to be pretty harsh on fascists. And the success of Wonder Woman, of course, was very likely a large stimulus for Marvel, not to be outdone, to get off its keester and create a film with a female super-hero lead. Larson may not be Gal Gadot, and her Oscar-winning performance in Room might have looked like the direct opposite of a super-hero role, but in that role she did embody someone who, despite being virtually completely dominated by a psychotic tormentor, never gave up and ultimately triumphed. And those are two qualities that Larson brings to Carol Danvers, the Captain Marvel of this film.

We first see her in what looks like a scene on some desert world where she has crash landed in a spacecraft. She’s badly injured and is with another woman who we later find out is a Dr. Wendy Lawson (Annette Bening), who seems to be her mentor, and they are trying to fight off an approaching enemy soldier. We also notice that the blood coming from Larson’s nose is blue.

If this is confusing, it’s supposed to be. As the film progresses, we realize this is a memory, just about the only one that our heroine has. Like us, she must find out about her past as the film goes along. When we next see her, she is being trained in hand-to-hand combat by a military mentor named Yon-Rogg (Jude Law). We learn that her name is Vers, and she is a part of the extraterrestrial race known as the Kree. Yon-Rogg is training her to be a part of a team he calls Starforce, whose task it is to act as an elite warrior force in a long, intergalactic war that the Krees are waging against the Skrulls, a race of green-skinned pointy-eared shapeshifters led by Talos (Ben Mendelsohn of DarkestHour). Oh, and by the way, Vers seems to have superpowers—like, electric bolt-shooting fists—which the Kree have convinced her they have given her. And since she’s lost her memory, she has no reason to doubt them.

The Skrull, Vers is convinced, are a race of terrorists, and must be destroyed. But she is captured by Talos and interrogated in some sort of space station, from which she escapes and ends up falling onto a strange planet known as C-53—right into a Blockbuster video store. Yes, C-53 is Earth, folks, and Vers has dropped into Los Angeles in the year 1995. Here she meets a young government agent named Nick Fury (yes, thatNick Fury, played by Samuel L. Jackson, wrinkle free and 29 again with the help of CGI magic). He doesn’t believe her story of alien shapeshifting terrorists—until he sees one himself, and then joins team Vers. Vers also comes to realize that C-53 is her home planet and reconnects with an old fellow air-force pilot named Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch from TV’s Bulletproof). In her discussions with Rambeau, Danvers begins to get back some of her memories. In particular she begins to recall just what she and Dr. Lawson were doing ae site of that crash, and how she really got her super powers. But you’ll get no spoilers from me.

The trolls, of course, have now been spreading their venom undisturbed now that the film has opened, so that Rotten Tomatoes shows a 60 percent audience rating for the film—20 points lower than the 80 percent rating from critics. It’s easy to tell who the trolls are when you look at the audience responses, though, not only because of their abominable spelling and grammar, but also because they all zero in on Larson and say the film fails because she is such a terrible actress. This criticism is patently absurd. As virtually every professional critic (yes, even the 40-year-old white dudes) agrees, she strikes the perfect note of confused amnesiac and gung-ho fighter for what she believes is the right cause until she is humanized further by her reacquaintance with her past, especially in her scenes with Lynch, who is terrific in her supporting role. She does, it should be said, everything she can with the role that is written for her—by co-directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck (TV’s Billions) and a bevy of other writers.

This is the chief flaw of the film: The large committee of writers makes for a script with little unifying sense other than the Marvel formula, and that gives us less of Carol Danvers’ character than it does a backstory and launching pad for the upcoming Avengers: Endgame, in which Captain Marvel is due to play a leading role. In particular, the ending of the film, where most of the kick-ass fighting occurs, seems overly burdened with a whole lot of stuff that’s going on, which happens quickly and not all that clearly. I suppose all will be clarified on April 26, when Endgamecomes to theaters, no doubt to the noise of more trollish vitriol.

But the movie has other virtues to recommend it, not the least of which is the youthened Samuel L. Jackson. Soon after Vers’s landing on earth, we come to realize that this film gives us the secret origin not only of Captain Marvel, but also of Nick Fury. We are treated to Jackson a la PulpFiction(which came out a year before this film is set), and we learn how he got involved in the whole Avengers enterprise. Fury has two eyes in the film, by the way, which allows the filmmakers to tease the audience a bit with the question of how he got that left eyepatch of his. Jude Law and Ben Mendelsohn do admirable jobs as the yin and yang of Vers’s universe. And there is also a handsome blonde cat named Goose who steals every scene he is in

If the name “Goose” recalls Top Gun, so does Danvers and Rambeau’s history as fighter pilots, and those references do give the film the period feel of a quarter century past—a feel that is underscored by the popular ’90s tracks that form much of the background of the film, including Nirvana’s “Come as You Are,” R.E.M.’s “Man on the Moon,” Heart’s “Crazy on You,” and Salt-N-Pepa’s “Connection.”

CaptainMarvelis fun, exciting and worth a good bucket of popcorn. Three Tennysons for this one.

NOW AVAILABLE!!!

Jay Ruud’s most recent novel, Lost in the Quagmire: The Quest of the Grail, IS NOW available from the publisher AS OF OCTOBER 15. You can order your copy direct from the publisher (Encircle Press) at http://encirclepub.com/product/lost-in-the-quagmire/You can also order an electronic version from Smashwords at https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/814922

LostInTheQuagmircover

When Sir Galahad arrives in Camelot to fulfill his destiny, the presence of Lancelot’s illegitimate son disturbs Queen Guinevere. But the young knight’s vision of the Holy Grail at Pentecost inspires the entire fellowship of the Round Table to rush off in quest of Christendom’s most holy relic. But as the quest gets under way, Sir Gawain and Sir Ywain are both seriously wounded, and Sir Safer and Sir Ironside are killed by a mysterious White Knight, who claims to impose rules upon the quest. And this is just the beginning. When knight after knight turns up dead or gravely wounded, sometimes at the hands of their fellow knights, Gildas and Merlin begin to suspect some sinister force behind the Grail madness, bent on nothing less than the destruction of Arthur and his table. They begin their own quest: to find the conspirator or conspirators behind the deaths of Arthur’s good knights. Is it the king’s enigmatic sister Morgan la Fay? Could it be Arthur’s own bastard Sir Mordred, hoping to seize the throne for himself? Or is it some darker, older grievance against the king that cries out for vengeance? Before Merlin and Gildas are through, they are destined to lose a number of close comrades, and Gildas finds himself finally forced to prove his worth as a potential knight, facing down an armed and mounted enemy with nothing less than the lives of Merlin and his master Sir Gareth at stake.

Order from Amazon here: https://www.amazon.com/Lost-Quagmire-Quest-Merlin-Mystery/dp/1948338122

Order from Barnes and Noble here: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/lost-in-the-quagmire-jay-ruud/1128692499?ean=9781948338127

Jack Lowden and Florence Pugh appear in Fighting with My Family by Stephen Merchant, an official selection of the Premieres program at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.


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Fighting With My Family

Fighting With My Family

Stephen Merchant (2019)

I’ve always been put off by professional wrestling. Having a respect for the sport in its pure competitive aspect in high school, college, or Olympic venues, I’ve always felt that the professional marketing of the sport as a form of theater was a disservice to a respectable athletic endeavor. And frankly, I also figured that anybody dumb enough to take seriously the hyper-histrionic blusterings of those preening grandstanders posing as athletes was probably dumb enough to, I don’t know, vote for…Brexit or something equally absurd. So, as my wife likes to say, I might not be the intended audience of a film like Fighting With My Family, the part-comedy, part sports-underdog biopic of 26-year old WWE superstar known as “Paige.”

Or maybe I’m exactly the intended audience. The film, produced by WWE Studios with the WWE’s most famous alumnus, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as executive producer, is primarily a promotional tool for the league, a venture into brand management with the goal of putting the likeable Paige forward as the face of the sport, and promoting her story as a glimpse into the gritty world of professional wrestling behind all the glitter. Thus the film may be intended to entertain and rally the troops of those already taken with the sport, and pique the interest of those for whom, like myself, the sport would normally have no appeal, but who like a good story.

And this film does tell a good story. Based on the 2012 British documentary about Saraya-Jade “Paige” Bevis and her family (called The Wrestlers: Fighting With My Family) and written and directed by Stephen Merchant (best known as co-creator of the original British version of The Office), the film tells the improbably but largely true story of the rise of the WWE icon from her humble beginnings and her incredibly quirky working-class and wrestling-obsessed family in Norwich, England, to international fame. Paige is played with sympathy and genuineness by the remarkable Florence Pugh, who was last seen playing Cordelia opposite Anthony Hopkins in last year’s BBC production of King Lear. To go from that to playing a WWE star is for an actor, one might say, the definition of range.

Saraya’s family consists of dad Ricky (Nick Frost from Shawn of the Dead), a former bank robber who was “saved” by a career in wrestling, mom Julia (Lena Headey from TV’s Game of Thrones), a former wrestler herself who named her daughter after her own ring name, and brother Zak (Jack Lowden of Dunkirk), whose only dream is to wrestle in the big time—the WWE. There is another half-brother who is also a wrestler, Roy, but he’s currently in prison for what you might call anger-management issues.

The family business in Norwich involves wrestling in the independent British circuit called the World Association of Wrestling (WAW) as well as promoting wrestlers, and running a gym for the training of young wrestlers. “It’s not fake, it’s fixed,” we’re told at one point: If you learn nothing else from this movie, you learn that while the matches are scripted and choreographed, they are not “fake” in the sense that they do involve a good deal of athleticism as well as ability, strength, and endurance. In one scene, Ricky, setting up a gig for one of his wrestlers, must persuade the fellow to take a trash can lid in the face and, for a clincher, a “bowling ball to the bollocks” for the sake of a good show.

As for the gym business, Zak cruises the neighborhood and picks up likely adolescents interested in learning something about wrestling, even one particular regular student who is blind but still wants to get in the ring. A point is also made, a bit heavy handedly, that this particular after-school interest manages to keep some of the young roughnecks from choosing less constructive hobbies, like selling drugs on street corners.

Zak and Saraya wrestle in the WAW themselves, Zak under the name “Zodiac” and Saraya as “Britani Knight.” Dreaming of better days, Zak and Saraya have sent an audition tape to the WWE in hopes of securing a tryout with the league and, thereby, a chance for fame and riches. To the family’s great delight, they are invited to London for an audition, where with several other potential wrestlers, they go through a difficult tryout for WWE coach and trainer Hutch Morgan (Vince Vaughn). After a test during which Morgan goads the hopefuls with insults and challenges not unlike a sergeant during basic training, he chooses only one wrestler to continue the process: Saraya. Zak, to whom the tryout mattered far more than to Saraya, is devastated, but despite Saraya’s pleading with Morgan to pick Zak as well, the decision is final.

From here the film takes a fairly predictable turn, as Merchant alternates between scenes of Saraya and Zak. Saraya, now known by her ring name of Paige (they already have a Britani, she is told), is working in the NXT, the WWE’s developmental league headquartered in Orlando, Florida. Here the pale, Goth, nose-pierced Paige endures more verbal abuse from Morgan, homesickness, guilt at having displaced her brother and stolen his dream, and annoyance at her peers, the blonde and tanned other female WWE hopefuls, who have no wrestling background but come from the ranks of models and cheerleaders. Meanwhile, back home in Norwich, Zak is persistently but fruitlessly pestering Morgan to give him another chance, while sinking further and further into a downward spiral of depression and alcoholism, neglecting his coaching duties at the gym and building to some sort of violent outburst that may lead him into a prison sentence in the footsteps of his brother.

I probably don’t need to tell you any more, not only because it would be a spoiler but also because you can probably write the ending yourself—it is a conventional sports/underdog story after all, even though it is, as they say, “based on a true story,” so the details may not be exactly as you imagine. And the story has been simplified and streamlined so that, for example, no mention is made of the fact that Bevis had won a number of European titles before moving to the WWE, nor is her NXT championship depicted. Further, Hutch Morgan is a completely fictional character. But as the plot of the film develops, it is clear that, for the sake of the story, Morgan needed to be invented.

Vaughn is memorable as Morgan, playing the part with restraint and sincerity. The Rock makes a couple of notable and amusing cameos that lift the film at key points. Frost and Headey are terrific as the wrestling parents, quirky and funny without coming across as ignoble or as caricatures. Lowden is sympathetic and believable as the also-ran brother. But the film is really carried by Pugh, who remains the likable and emotional focus of the film throughout. Admittedly I am probably not going to ever watch a single episode of the WWE circus, but I did think watching this film was time well spent. Three Tennysons for this one.

NOW AVAILABLE!!!

Jay Ruud’s most recent novel, Lost in the Quagmire: The Quest of the Grail, IS NOW available from the publisher AS OF OCTOBER 15. You can order your copy direct from the publisher (Encircle Press) at http://encirclepub.com/product/lost-in-the-quagmire/You can also order an electronic version from Smashwords at https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/814922

LostInTheQuagmircover

When Sir Galahad arrives in Camelot to fulfill his destiny, the presence of Lancelot’s illegitimate son disturbs Queen Guinevere. But the young knight’s vision of the Holy Grail at Pentecost inspires the entire fellowship of the Round Table to rush off in quest of Christendom’s most holy relic. But as the quest gets under way, Sir Gawain and Sir Ywain are both seriously wounded, and Sir Safer and Sir Ironside are killed by a mysterious White Knight, who claims to impose rules upon the quest. And this is just the beginning. When knight after knight turns up dead or gravely wounded, sometimes at the hands of their fellow knights, Gildas and Merlin begin to suspect some sinister force behind the Grail madness, bent on nothing less than the destruction of Arthur and his table. They begin their own quest: to find the conspirator or conspirators behind the deaths of Arthur’s good knights. Is it the king’s enigmatic sister Morgan la Fay? Could it be Arthur’s own bastard Sir Mordred, hoping to seize the throne for himself? Or is it some darker, older grievance against the king that cries out for vengeance? Before Merlin and Gildas are through, they are destined to lose a number of close comrades, and Gildas finds himself finally forced to prove his worth as a potential knight, facing down an armed and mounted enemy with nothing less than the lives of Merlin and his master Sir Gareth at stake.

Order from Amazon here: https://www.amazon.com/Lost-Quagmire-Quest-Merlin-Mystery/dp/1948338122

Order from Barnes and Noble here: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/lost-in-the-quagmire-jay-ruud/1128692499?ean=9781948338127

greatest-show-on-earth

The Ten Worst Academy Award Winners

Ruud’s Bottom Ten

Following the debacle of this year’s Academy Awards, it seemed the perfect time to present a list of the ten worst movies to win the coveted Best Picture Oscar. If you read this space last week, you might be aware of just how much I didn’t think Green Book was deserving of a Best Picture nomination, let alone a victory. Turns out I’m hardly alone in that assessment, as morning after critics were, for the most part, shrieking their disapproval over the Academy members’ puzzling preference of such a trite film over the technical virtuosity of Roma or the period glamor and biting satire of The Favorite or even the deeper relevance of BlacKkKlansman. Spike Lee apparently tried to leave the room when the award was announced, and I don’t think it was just sour grapes.

But lest we think this gross injustice is somehow unprecedented or even unexpected, it’s time to remember just how many miscarriages of justice there have been in the 91-year history of the Academy Awards. And in that spirit I offer the following list of the ten worst films to have filched Oscar’s biggest honor away from far more deserving competition. I’m sure some will disagree with some of my assessments—there was certainly grumbling under my own roof. But here’s my opinion anyway.

Let me set a few ground rules first: I am not including here some of the gross errors made during the first decade of the awards. Among those early awards were some unquestionably substandard films—Broadway Melody (1929), for instance, the first talking film to win the Best Picture Oscar, is universally regarded as the worst film ever to win, and not far behind are Cimarron(1931)Cavalcade(1933), and The Great Ziegfeld (1936). But voters didn’t take the awards as seriously in those early years, and tended, anyway, to just vote for their friends or films produced in the studios they were under contract with. Even so, some of the all-time classic films were honored with the Oscar during those years, including All Quiet on the Western Front (1930), Mutiny on the Bounty (1935), It Happened One Night (1934), and the first Oscar winner, Wings (1927). But I’m starting my list in 1950, so we won’t include some of those regrettable early blunders.

I’m also not going to single out good films that probably should not have beaten out other even better films. Most people agree that Goodfellas was a brilliant film that probably should have won, but Dances with Wolves had an appealing epic grandeur and made an important statement, and is a fine film in its own right. And Saving Private Ryan was a devastatingly powerful film that is unsurpassed in its depiction of the fearful brutality of war, and it probably should have been Best Picture, but that doesn’t make Shakespeare in Love a bad film: Shakespeare has its own delightful glories. And although I’ve made no secret that I thought last year’s winner, The Shape of Water, was an absurd choice in the face of competition from one of the best films of the decade, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, I can’t honestly say that it was a bad film. So in addition to choosing only Oscar winners post-1950, I’m also focusing on films that I just didn’t think were Best Picture material at all. And let’s start with Green Book:

 

10) Green Book (2018)

It’s not that Green Book is a bad movie. It’s just not Oscar material. It’s a pretty run-of-the-mill buddy-road-trip movie, in which two apparently incompatible people get to understand and appreciate one another. And it’s got its heart in the right place. It might have been titled “Can’t we all just get along?” But other than feeling vaguely good about the human race—if these two can work it out, maybe everybody can—there’s not a lot here. Mahershala Ali and Viggo Mortensen are serviceable in their roles, though Viggo sometimes comes across almost as a caricature. Still there is not much to take away from this beyond the message that gosh, things were bad for black folks in the south in the early 1960s, and you know what? Italian Americans, like most white Americans, were prejudiced at the time, largely through ignorance. Who knew? But the film is shallow, cliché, and dated, and uses the “white savior” trope that we ought to have grown out of by now.

9) Gladiator (2000)

Ridley Scott put together an epic throwback to films like Spartacus or Ben-Hur, while emphasizing the brutality of war in an opening scene inspired by Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan. Russell Crowe as the enslaved ex-general Maximus who must fight to regain his stolen life won the Best Actor Oscar that he should have won the previous year for The Insider, and Joachin Phoenix played a memorable narcissistic nutcase emperor in a sprawling three-hour spectacle and endurance test that is ultimately predictable and without much substance beyond the bloody spectacle. It’s no Spartacus and it’s no Ben-Hur. It’s not even Life of Brian. Sorry, Ridley. Stephen Soderbergh’s Traffic was a far better film that year.

8) Argo (2012)

Ben Affleck’s film, about a CIA plan to smuggle six American hostages out of Iran by posing as a science fiction film crew scoping out Tehran as a site for their film, is not a bad movie either when considered in itself, but it’s certainly not a great movie, and really isn’t especially memorable. But it’s pretty much an average sort of spy drama, “based on a true story,” that’s not especially distinguishable from dozens of similar kinds of films, and it stays on a pretty simple level throughout, without going beyond the surface of the real issues involved. A decent movie but not Academy Award material. But Academy voters apparently really liked the idea of Hollywood saving the day, and voted for their feelings.  With a truly well-made spy thriller, Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty, as the competition, the choice should have been obvious to voters at the time. It certainly is from the current vantage point.

7) Braveheart (1995)

The case against Mel Gibson’s directorial debut is not unlike the argument against Gladiator. What we have in Gibson’s rousing spectacle of William Wallace’s role in leading the Scottish to resist the dominance of England’s Edward I, is an uneven story that is very long on technical achievements but short on character depth or complexity. It’s bloody and violent, something Gibson has continued to do, sometimes to excess, and it handles battle scenes with great facility, but it’s not like the characters are particularly memorable, or the plot especially compelling. Ron Howard’s Apollo 13 has proven to be a far more compelling film, and probably should have won the Best Picture award that year, though Ang Lee’s brilliant adaptation of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility would have been a deserving choice as well.

6) Driving Miss Daisy (1989)

In a plot eerily reminiscent of Green Book, this film focuses on a rich, old, Jewish widow (Jessica Tandy) and her African-American chauffeur (Morgan Freeman), whose relationship spans a time of significant social change in the American south. And while the two main characters do ultimately form a relationship of mutual respect, it’s ultimately a mildly racist flick that has not aged well. Perhaps the Oscar nomination that went to Freeman for Best Actor here was largely the result of his excellent work in Glory that same year—a movie that would have deserved the Best Picture Oscar, had it even been nominated. Also not nominated that year? Spike Lee’s truly groundbreaking Do the Right Thing.

5) Gigi (1958)

There have been some great musicals that have won the Academy Award for Best Picture, among them My Fair Lady, The Sound of Music, and West Side Story, all of which first came to popular attention on Broadway before making it big on the big screen. For Gigi, Lerner and Loewe (the team that brought you My Fair Lady, Camelot, and Brigadoon) agreed to provide a book and music directly for the screen, the script based on a French novella of the same name by Collette, about a young courtesan in training. Directed by Vincente Minelli, the film was the last of the big MGM musicals, and perhaps for that reason received support from voters, the Oscar for this movie a kind of nostalgic tribute to that whole history of films. But never having been tested and forged before live audiences onstage makes this film a whole different animal than My Fair Lady. There is one memorable song in the film—Maurice Chevalier singing “Thank Heaven for Little Girls”–but that’s not enough to raise it above banality, nor is Leslie Caron’s cute dancing as the title character. And from a contemporary standpoint, Chevalier’s song is pretty creepy, and this film really hasn’t aged well. It’s hard to believe this could have beaten out Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and The Defiant Ones for Best Picture. If you want to see Leslie Caron in some lovely Parisian scenes, watch An American in Paris and skip this one.

4) Around the World in 80 Days (1956)

By the mid-1950s, television was making huge inroads in the entertainment industry, and movies were beginning to fight back, with wide-screen projections like Cinemascope and Vista Vision, as well as expanded use of technicolor and a new emphasis on spectacle. In 1956, Michael Todd’s Around the World in 80 Days was the champion of spectacle. With David Niven and international comic star Cantinflas, this adaptation of the classic Jules Verne novel was filmed on location in 13 different countries, using 140 sets, 68,894 extras, 74,685 costumes, all at a cost of more than $6 million, which at the time was a pretty hefty budget. Todd also coined the term “cameo” to describe the brief appearances in the film of more than 40 of Hollywood’s biggest stars for Niven and Cantinflas to run into on their speedy circumnavigation (Frank Sinatra as a piano player, Marlene Dietrich as a saloon owner, Buster Keaton as a train conductor etc., etc., etc.). And while this does give us John Carradine uttering one of the memorable lines of movie history—“Well hang me for a sheep-stealin’ son of a tarantula if you ain’t a couple of yellow- bellied milksops!”—it doesn’t exactly make for a coherent narrative. In the end, despite some spectacular views from a hot air balloon, the movie has virtually no substance. It’s sprawling three hours has very little plot but only a long string of episodes in interesting locales, and no actual takeaway other than, “Well that was fun. Let’s go to dinner.” But on the principle that “bigger must be better,” the Academy gave it its biggest award. It’s almost shocking that a film of such weightless fluff was selected as Best Picture over the even more spectacular The Ten Commandments or James Dean’s brilliant tour de force performance in Giant. (By the way, one of the greatest westerns ever made, The Searchers, also came out in 1956—and was not nominated for a single Oscar. It was far and away a better movie than Around the World in 80 Days, and arguably better than Giant or The Ten Commandments as well, but it was an independent production at a time when studios pretty much ruled the movie industry). But I digress…

3) The Artist (2011)

And speaking of weightless fluff, the Academy made a similar gaffe in 2011 when for some inexplicable reason they gave the Best Picture Oscar to this silly little film from France. I mean, it’s not a terrible movie, or unenjoyable. There’s a bit of charm in this tribute to and parody of American silent film classics, and the novelty of seeing a black-and-white silent movie in the 21st century appealed to a certain portion of the public, and apparently a larger portion of Academy members. Director Michel Hazanavicius, and stars Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo had collaborated on a couple of modest French spoofs of spy films before getting this movie released in America, where it suddenly became huge. Why? Harvey Weinstein, the undisputed king of Hollywood in his pre-#MeToo days, had bought the distribution rights to the film, and chiefly through his influence made the film a hit, and convinced members to vote for it. Seriously, has anybody thought about this movie even once since the Oscar ceremony? Most critics believe Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life should have run away with the Oscar this year. Personally, I thought that film was a piece of self-indulgent crap but it still would have been more deserving than this one. Martin Scorsese’s Hugo and Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris were also nominated this year. The Artist remains a major head-scratcher. Seriously, if you want to see a classic silent film comedy, go watch The Gold Rush and get the real thing.

2) Crash (2005)

This is a film whose heart is in the right place, and it has a super cast including Sandra Bullock, Don Cheadle, Thandie Newton, Terrence Howard, Michael Peña, and a memorable Matt Dillon as a racist cop. So why is Paul Haggis’s film so much maligned by critics? Well, the Canadian director tries to create a comment on racial tensions in Los Angeles by bringing several intertwined characters together in a literal as well as a metaphorical collision. It doesn’t work well because the incidents are contrived, the tone seems condescending, and the message blatantly obvious and oversimplified: Everyone is capable of bigotry or xenophobia, and it ain’t a good thing.The only conceivable reason for Crash to have won the Best Picture award is that the favorite this year, Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain, with its sympathetic and nuanced treatment of a secret gay cowboy love affair, was too controversial at the time for Academy voters to embrace. The other possibility, Spielberg’s brilliant Munich, was too dark and morally complex to get a lot of enthusiastic support, so why not go with the simple, black-and-white feel- good Crash?

1) The Greatest Show on Earth (1952)

By 1952, Cecil B. DeMille had been making movies for 40 years, and a lot of Academy members seemed to think that it was high time he won an Academy Award. He’d just directed this star-studded ode to the glory of circuses and heck, every kid loves a circus, right? So why not give it to him for this one? Well, a lot of reasons: an actual plot might have been nice, to go along with the string of circus acts the audience is treated to…or bored with. Given the decline of circuses and their popularity, this is a film that hasn’t aged well at all, but even in its day was little more than an episodic chance for Charlton Heston and Jimmy Stewart to don circus togs and act like it’s fun. This might be a case similar to Around the World in 80 Days, the circus providing a little bit of spectacle in technicolor and the wide screen, and the Academy saying “Yeah, you can’t see this on television!” Or, as I say, it was just a lifetime achievement award for DeMille. But if that’s what the voters wanted to do, it certainly would have been better, in retrospect, if they’d waited a few years and given him the award for The Ten Commandments. That would have solved two injustices, because it would have allowed the Best Picture Award to go to Fred Zinnemann’s brilliant High Noon (or possibly John Ford’s charming The Quiet Man) in 1952.

NOW AVAILABLE!!!

Jay Ruud’s most recent novel, Lost in the Quagmire: The Quest of the Grail, IS NOW available from the publisher AS OF OCTOBER 15. You can order your copy direct from the publisher (Encircle Press) at http://encirclepub.com/product/lost-in-the-quagmire/You can also order an electronic version from Smashwords at https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/814922

LostInTheQuagmircover

When Sir Galahad arrives in Camelot to fulfill his destiny, the presence of Lancelot’s illegitimate son disturbs Queen Guinevere. But the young knight’s vision of the Holy Grail at Pentecost inspires the entire fellowship of the Round Table to rush off in quest of Christendom’s most holy relic. But as the quest gets under way, Sir Gawain and Sir Ywain are both seriously wounded, and Sir Safer and Sir Ironside are killed by a mysterious White Knight, who claims to impose rules upon the quest. And this is just the beginning. When knight after knight turns up dead or gravely wounded, sometimes at the hands of their fellow knights, Gildas and Merlin begin to suspect some sinister force behind the Grail madness, bent on nothing less than the destruction of Arthur and his table. They begin their own quest: to find the conspirator or conspirators behind the deaths of Arthur’s good knights. Is it the king’s enigmatic sister Morgan la Fay? Could it be Arthur’s own bastard Sir Mordred, hoping to seize the throne for himself? Or is it some darker, older grievance against the king that cries out for vengeance? Before Merlin and Gildas are through, they are destined to lose a number of close comrades, and Gildas finds himself finally forced to prove his worth as a potential knight, facing down an armed and mounted enemy with nothing less than the lives of Merlin and his master Sir Gareth at stake.

Order from Amazon here: https://www.amazon.com/Lost-Quagmire-Quest-Merlin-Mystery/dp/1948338122

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Top Ten Films of 2018

The Ruud Top Ten

 

With the Awards Season crawling towards its culmination in the Oscar ceremony this coming Sunday, I guess it’s about time for my annual Top Ten list of the best films I saw in 2018—or, I should say, the best films made in 2018 that I’ve been able to see, since half of the best films only made it to Central Arkansas well after the first of the year, if they made it at all. Roma, for example never played here. Fortunately, it can be seen on Netflix. This is becoming a stronger and stronger trend, worsened since Riverdale has tended to go more mainstream the past couple of years, so that foreign films virtually never play here at all any more, and critically acclaimed films, especially independent ones, are lucky to be here a week on a single screen, while universally derided films take up multiple screens at every theater in the area and play forever. I don’t really know whether it’s the films’ distributors, the large cineplex corporations, the studios, or (least likely) local theaters themselves that determine this trend, but it’s certainly a disappointing one. So there are films that I never saw because they didn’t come here. There are also films that I didn’t see because I suaully go to movies with my wife and she isn’t keen on animated movies, and doesn’t care a lot for superhero films (which does speak to a serious flaw in her film taste) but as a result I chose never to see, for example, Into the Spiderverse.But what follows is my list for the year. Read ‘em and weep.

 

  1. A Star Is Born (Bradley Cooper)

For a remake of a remake of a remake, this version of the well-worn tale of two stars—him on the way down and her on the way up—was impressive not only for Cooper’s first-time direction and Lady Gaga’s first-time acting, but for breathing new life into the old story. As I wrote in my original review, “There are two significant differences that make this version of the story more palatable for 2018: One of these is the depiction of Jackson and his addictions. There is a much more sophisticated understanding of alcoholism and drug addiction that comes through in this film, with Jackson’s demons more clearly motivated, laid out and portrayed. He is probably a more sympathetic Maine than we have seen before, because we understand him better and because his motivations are more complex…. The other major difference is Ally’s independence. As Gaga portrays the character, Ally doesn’t coddle Jackson’s bad habits…. Gaga has surprised some people with her performance in the film, which is convincing, bold, and sympathetic. But surely we should have expected this: She has always played a character as “Lady Gaga,” someone quite different from Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, a name she originally said she would use in the movie’s credits (but that didn’t happen). She is scarcely recognizable in the early scenes, without the usual trappings of her stage persona, though she becomes much more Gaga-like by the end. Cooper’s performance is less surprising. As a three-time Oscar nominee, he could be expected to give the kind of performance he does here—charming, self-destructive, sympathetic, enraging and engaging. Nor will it be surprising if, as in 1937 and in 1954, the 2018 version of A Star Is Born nets Oscar nominations for both its principals. Maybe one will win this time.”

 

  1. RBG (Julie Cohen and Betsy West)

The life of an 85-year-old U.S. Supreme Court justice may not seem the stuff of which spine-tingling cinema is made, but then Ruth Bader Ginsberg, the “Notorious RBG,” is not your typical 85-year-old Supreme Court justice. A significant presence on social media and the darling of the left, Ginsberg remains the conscience of a court that has moved steadily toward the right. We are presented with her early life and her twenty years on the court. And, as I described it in my original review, “For those unfamiliar with Bader Ginsburg’s story, the film traces her highly successful career as a lawyer for the A.C.L.U. in the 1970s, when she argued six cases before the Supreme Court, winning five of them. All of these cases involved questions of gender equality—a concept that seemed completely foreign to the all-male court of the time. The cases involved equal pay for equal work as well as family benefits for surviving husbands that previously had only been available for wives. Full gender equality is far from having been achieved, but without Bader Ginsberg, the film makes us feel, it would barely be recognized…. The filmmakers also interview Bader Ginsberg’s children, her granddaughter (who is now herself a graduate of Harvard Law School), and her two oldest friends. Clinton is interviewed briefly, as is longtime conservative Senator Orrin Hatch, and feminist icon Gloria Steinem, and others…. All describe a woman who was driven from an early age, who has a brilliant legal mind, and who works tirelessly. We see Bader Ginsberg, who has twice survived bouts with cancer, working out vigorously with a trainer and telling her interviewers how determined she is to keep fighting the good fight as long as she is physically and mentally able. One leaves the theater hoping that will be for many years yet.”

  1. BlacKkKlansman (Spike Lee)

I ended my original review of this film by saying that while it may not be Do the Right Thingor Malcolm X, it was Spike Lee’s best film since. Using the familiar buddy-cop format and a throwback ’70s setting, Lee explores important contemporary social and political concerns in this biting satirical drama telling the true story of how a black police officer and his Jewish sidekick infiltrate the Ku Klux Klan. As I noted in my review, the plot itself follows a fairly typical Hollywood scenario. “But in addition to its frank examination (and indictment) of the media and Hollywood in particular, the film has other things to recommend it. [Adam] Driver, as a secular Jewish cop who has never given much thought to his ethnic heritage, but who is forced to confront it when faced with the vicious antisemitism of his KKK associates, has never been better. A scene in which Harry Belafonte, as the elderly Mr. Turner, describes the brutal murder of a friend in 1916 in scenes intercut with that screening of Birth of a Nation, is a masterpiece of editing. While I thought that the relationship and political differences between Ron [John David Washington] and Patrice [Laura Harrier] were underdeveloped and could have been better utilized, the film as a whole was particularly effective. In case we haven’t gotten the message, Lee’s concluding scenes return to a frame of media images, this time contemporary images of the white supremacists’ Charlottesville rally and President Trump’s defense of their actions—an indictment of an American society that, 40 years after the events of this film, has allowed those same racist attitudes to re-emerge more powerful than ever.”

  1. Roma (Alfonso Cuarón)

I can’t say I was quite as taken with Cuarón’s semi-autobiographical neorealist paean to Mexico City in the political turmoil of the early 1970s as most of our movie critics were, and I’m not quite sure it has the inside track for this year’s Best Picture Oscar, despite its ten nominations in a year when there is no clear frontrunner among the English-speaking films in the running. But there is no denying that this is a significant film with outstanding performances by its lead actresses—Yalitza Aparicio as the maid Cleo and Marina de Tavira as her upper middle-class employer Sofia, with a timely theme of female solidarity against male neglect, and with its glorious black-and-white cinematography fixing indelible images in the viewers’ minds. As I said in my original review, “Many may find it slow moving. Many may find Cleo herself uninteresting—she says very little and is essentially stoic through most of the film, so it’s difficult to see what is happening in her head. And you may become annoyed at not knowing anything about the political situation that frames the film, especially since Cuarón does little to explain it. For these reasons the film is far more the darling of the critics than of the general movie-going populace. But as an evocation of the memory of a specific place and time, it is remarkable—and in a year when there is no great English-speaking juggernaut set to dominate the Oscars, this could be the year that a film has a shot to win both the Best Foreign Language Film and Best Picture Oscars.”

  1. The Favourite (Yorgos Lanthimos)

This lavish period drama set during the reign of the last Stuart monarch of England, Queen Anne (1702-1714) is a surprisingly bitter satire involving the manipulations and conniving court intrigue of three women—the queen and her two closest ladies-in-waiting (Lady Sarah Churchill and her conniving cousin Abigail Hill) during the War of Spanish Succession—a political squabble that seems to be here only to provide a background for the more interesting squabbles in the court. As I said in my original review, “basically, it’s All About Eve but with more venom, and more lesbianism…. [T]he performances of the trio of leading women provide the truly memorable aspect of the film. Whatever else it is, The Favourite is a showcase for the remarkable talents of [Rachel] Weisz, who is chillingly cold and unflappable as Lady Churchill; of [Emma] Stone, disarmingly ‘innocent’ and maliciously calculating as Abigail; and of [Olivia] Colman, narcissistic, infantile and wallowing in self-pity as Queen Anne herself. [All three actresses have been nominated for Oscars]—Colman for lead actress and the others for supporting roles, though the distinction here is a matter of semantics, since all three roles are essentially leads. It’s definitely worth coming to see them perform.”

  1. Black Panther (Ryan Coogler)

Sure, it’s a superhero movie. But when you consider how large a percentage of films coming out of Hollywood these days are superhero movies, it just make sense that one of them, at least, might transcend the genre and be a legitimate entry in the top ten list for a lot of moviegoers. Last year’s Wonder Womancertainly fit into this category, and this year’s standout superhero flick, by a large margin, is Coogler’s Black Panther, in which Chadwick Boseman plays T’Challa, the king of the hidden realm of Wakanda. In this film, the superhero truly embodies the mythic aspirations of human consciousness. As I said in my original review, Black Panther “is mythic in two senses of the word: He is an exaggerated and idealized representative figure of the black people of the African continent and its diaspora, and he is a figure whose story embodies archetypal tropes, symbols, and patterns drawn from Karl Jung called the collective unconscious of the entire human race. This film appeals to viewers on their deepest level…. More importantly, Black Panthertranscends the typical genre-movie by the characterization of [its villain Erik] Killmonger. [Michael B.] Jordan’s swaggering presence nearly overshadows Boseman’s quieter, more earnest presence, and he also has legitimate grievances and understandable motivations that make him a fairly sympathetic villain—or would do so if we didn’t witness him performing a few unjustifiable acts.”

 

  1. Stan & Ollie (John S. Baird)

I’m sure there will be plenty of moviephiles eager to dispute my top four films. None of them are in the Oscar race for “Best Picture,” which is a sad comment on this year’s nominees. My number four film was pretty much ignored by the Oscars, though its two leads did get “Best Actor” nominations, one from the BAFTAs and one from the Golden Globes. This film is John S. Baird’s delightful little tribute to one of the most successful and memorable pairings in screen history—that of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy. In this nearly perfect little film, focused on a few weeks at the end of the great duo’s career, we get a thumbnail sketch of why they were successful, why they faded out, and what made them tick. I admit that my taste in film are colored by my literary sense, so that character, plot and theme are the things that affect me most strongly in movies, and in this film John C. Reiley’s and Steve Coogan’s deft success at bringing these two personalities to life struck me as highly memorable. As I wrote in my original review, “The performances carry this film. Both Coogan and Reilly portray the individual comic icons with a light touch, suggesting Laurel’s driven anxiety and Hardy’s relaxed ease without falling into caricature of the duo’s famous personae.…The film is ultimately a nostalgic blast for fans of Laurel and Hardy, and a loving introduction to their work for those too young to remember them.”

  1. Can You Ever Forgive Me? (Marcielle Heller)

This is another small film that is carried by a strong script and by the performances of its two principle actors. It’s further proof that, given noteworthy material, Melissa McCarthy is an excellent, sometimes remarkable actress. Unfortunately, she has spent a lot of her career in dreck like this year’s Life of the Party. She shines in this film, however, and her Oscar nomination for best lead actress as the literary forger Lee Israel is well deserved, though in the face of strong support for Lady Gaga and Olivia Coleman, as well as a sentimental wave for surprise Golden Globe winner Glenn Close in The Wife, McCarthy is a long shot for the award. Her co-star here, screen veteran Richard E. Grant, is nothing short of brilliant in his supporting role as homeless, barfly Jack Hock. While he will almost certainly be beaten out in the Supporting Actor category by Greenbook’s Mahershala Ali, it’s worth noting that Ali’s really was a lead role, and that Green Book really is not as good a film as awards season seems to be making it. If there were any justice in Hollywood, the statue would go to Grant but I know better than to expect that. As for this film, as I said in my original review, this little unpretentious film, the story of an unimportant character engaged in a rather petty form of crime, turns out to be one of the best movies I’ve seen this year. McCarthy’s understated range of emotion is remarkable, and the depth of her characterization of this obnoxious, unpleasant and lonely woman may be surprising given her previous exclusive work in comedy (though you know what they say: Dying is easy. Comedy is hard.). McCarthy makes it look easy here, and is able, against all odds, to make us feel sympathy for the largely unsympathetic—and unrepentant—Israel. Her last scene with Clark, in which they meet at a bar and she tells him she’s escaped her court-ordered house arrest by saying she was going to an AA meeting, is brilliantly and subtly touching, as she tells him she’s writing a book about her adventures and asks him for permission to write about him.”

 

  1. They Shall Not Grow Old (Peter Jackson)

It’s not like me to place two documentaries on my Top Ten list, and it’s even less like me to put a film this high on the list essentially for its technical achievement. But Peter Jackson and his crew have worked such a marvelous feat in restoring, re-editing, and recombining these old films from the First World War, and in weaving in the narration of the footage with recorded commentary from veterans of the Great War, that it’s not possible for me to ignore the impact of this film. True, it’s fresh on my mind since I just saw it last week, but I’m pretty sure I’ll be just as impressed when I see it again. As I said in my original review, “You have literally never seen anything like it.…. It turns out the title is not simply an allusion to the patriotic “Ode of Remembrance.” It is also a statement that has become literally true: The young men filmed in these century-old images have been restored to their youth through the magic of Jackson’s technology. This is remarkably poignant with a group of Lancashire fusiliers, grouped before moving into battle in one section of the film. Jackson tells us in the commentary following the film that this group of men was almost completely wiped out in the subsequent attack—we are seeing them in the last 30 minutes of their lives. But as the title says, they have not grown old: Jackson has succeeded, in a sense, in resurrecting them from the dead. This is a miracle that you need to see for yourself.”

 

  1. If Beale Street Could Talk (Barry Jenkins)

The current favorite to win the Best Picture Oscar for 2018 is Green Book, which has five total nominations and a good deal of momentum. Now I will grant you that Green Book is a pretty good film and is worth seeing. But it is a bit cliché, puts forward a lesson that people should have learned 50 years ago, and deserves some of the “white savior” criticism it’s gotten. It’s just not the best picture of the year. Its biggest competition seems to be coming from Roma, which is probably a better movie but still is the kind of film that critics and filmmakers admire for its style, while audiences fidget and fall asleep. All right, I may be exaggerating a little, but neither of these films, in my opinion, deserves the most coveted prize in filmdom. My vote is going for another film, one that is not nominated for Best Picture: Barry Jenkins’ If Beale Street Could Talk. In a year in which other films—like Green Card, BlacKkKlansman, and Black Panther—may touch on similar themes and may even split the vote, drawing attention away from Jenkins’ fine film, the Academy saw fit to leave this one off their “Best Picture” nominee list. It’s received three nominations—for best adapted screenplay, best musical score, and best supporting actress for Regina King. It looks like King may win this award, especially if Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone cancel each other out for The Favourite, and fans of Beale Street will have to be content with that. But this film deserves more. As I said in my original review, “It tells the story of a young black couple [KiKi Layne as Tish and Stephan James as Fonny] in early 1970s New York, struggling to find a place for themselves in a world that seems hostile to their love, in a country designed to keep them from succeeding….The effect of the film is achieved not so much through the gentle, subdued action and soothing music in the scenes between Tish and Fonny, but particularly through the more dynamic energy of the supporting characters…Most memorable of all is probably [Tish’s mother] Sharon [King], who works tirelessly to obtain Fonny’s release [from an unsubstantiated  rape charge], even flying to Puerto Rico, where the prosecution has spirited away the rape victim Victoria Rogers (Emily Rios) to keep their case from being blown. The meeting between Sharon and Victoria is devastating and crushing, the fragile Victoria’s psyche as crushed by the legal system as Tish’s promises to be, and Sharon’s disappointment as raw as Fonny’s with the stark denial of justice. This film is likely to leave a lasting effect on you, and it’s certain that the issues it raises are still with us, 45 years after the novel’s original publication.”

Honorable Mention: The Wife, A Simple Favor, Incredibles 2, First Reformed, and Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

NOW AVAILABLE!!!

Jay Ruud’s most recent novel, Lost in the Quagmire: The Quest of the Grail, IS NOW available from the publisher AS OF OCTOBER 15. You can order your copy direct from the publisher (Encircle Press) at http://encirclepub.com/product/lost-in-the-quagmire/You can also order an electronic version from Smashwords at https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/814922

LostInTheQuagmircover

When Sir Galahad arrives in Camelot to fulfill his destiny, the presence of Lancelot’s illegitimate son disturbs Queen Guinevere. But the young knight’s vision of the Holy Grail at Pentecost inspires the entire fellowship of the Round Table to rush off in quest of Christendom’s most holy relic. But as the quest gets under way, Sir Gawain and Sir Ywain are both seriously wounded, and Sir Safer and Sir Ironside are killed by a mysterious White Knight, who claims to impose rules upon the quest. And this is just the beginning. When knight after knight turns up dead or gravely wounded, sometimes at the hands of their fellow knights, Gildas and Merlin begin to suspect some sinister force behind the Grail madness, bent on nothing less than the destruction of Arthur and his table. They begin their own quest: to find the conspirator or conspirators behind the deaths of Arthur’s good knights. Is it the king’s enigmatic sister Morgan la Fay? Could it be Arthur’s own bastard Sir Mordred, hoping to seize the throne for himself? Or is it some darker, older grievance against the king that cries out for vengeance? Before Merlin and Gildas are through, they are destined to lose a number of close comrades, and Gildas finds himself finally forced to prove his worth as a potential knight, facing down an armed and mounted enemy with nothing less than the lives of Merlin and his master Sir Gareth at stake.

Order from Amazon here: https://www.amazon.com/Lost-Quagmire-Quest-Merlin-Mystery/dp/1948338122

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img_1

They Shall Not Grow Old

They Shall Not Grow Old

Peter Jackson (2018)

Ruud Rating

4 Shakespeares

They went with songs to the battle, they were young, 

Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow. 

They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted; 

They fell with their faces to the foe.

 

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old: 

Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. 

At the going down of the sun and in the morning 

We will remember them.

These are the third and fourth stanzas of the 1914 poem “For the Fallen” by Laurence Binyon, well-known throughout the British Commonwealth for its use in the “Ode of Remembrance,” traditionally recited on “Remembrance Day” (November 11) commemorating the end of what was called the Great War. Binyon wrote the poem after the British suffered heavy losses in the battle of the Marne on the Western Front early in the war, not knowing how much greater would be the losses on that front over the next four years. The Ode is recited at extended ceremonies at the Menin Gate in Ypres after buglers have sounded the “Last Call,” honoring the 300,000 British and Commonwealth troops who died in the trench warfare there in Flanders Fields. It is the first line of the poem’s fourth stanza, the most familiar part of the “Ode of Remembrance,” that provides the title of Peter Jackson’s new documentary about British infantry soldiers in the trenches of World War I’s Western Front.

They Shall Not Grow Old is the Oscar-winning director’s first foray into the territory of the documentary—at least as a director (Jackson did produce West of Memphis, the 2012 documentary on the West Memphis Three). The BBC, in concert with the Imperial War Museums and the UK government arts program “14-18 NOW,” contacted Jackson in 2015, commissioning him to make a film using the 100 hours of archival film footage from the war held in the Imperial Museum, in addition to the 600 hours of interviews with 200 veterans of the Great War, recorded by the BBC and the IWM in the 1960s and ’70s, while those veterans were still available. The only requirement was for Jackson to use the materials in a unique and creative manner. I urge you to see the film, now showing at Riverdale 10 and at Colonel Glenn, and you’ll see that Jackson has certainly fulfilled his end of the bargain.

What you see in the beginning of the film is some of the original black-and-white footage, unrestored (or at least not completely restored), depicting the recruitment and training of troops at the beginning of the war and their shipping out for France and, with the arrival on the continent, there is a Wizard of Oz moment when the picture expands to fill the wide screen, and everything turns to color. The soldiers, as Jackson says, would have seen battle in color, and what he has tried to do in the film is recreate for audiences, as closely as modern technology may allow, what it was really like being a combat soldier in the trenches during the Great War. Film that had faded nearly to white, or decayed nearly to black, has been cleaned up and the image sharpened. Frame rates of the old films have been adjusted to contemporary standards, so the movements of the figures are all natural, as if they had been filmed yesterday. It is as if these long dead soldiers have suddenly come to life, in the glory of their youth and the pathos of their impending doom.

Color has been added thoughtfully and carefully, the technicians studying the colors of British and German uniforms, and the colors of the landscapes of Flanders Fields, so that colors in the film are as realistic as possible. Jackson has employed forensic lip-readers, so that when any figures are seen to be speaking in the film footage, a voice—with the correct regional accent—is synced with his lip movements so that the words spoken more than a hundred years ago are recaptured and become part of the film. Other sound effects—exploding shells, firing guns, squeaking rats—are reproduced as realistically as possible, using World War I era guns. Music from the First World War forms a subtle and barely noticeable background to some moments of the film, and a male chorus sings a rowdy version the popular and cynical war song “Mademoiselle from Armentières” over the credits. This last song, which Jackson had decided to use as he was finishing production on the film, is sung by a hastily assembled group of British government employees in New Zealand, since Jackson wanted to make sure to have genuine British voices, rather than New Zealanders, ending the film.

Then there are the voice-overs. After listening to those six hundred hours of recorded interviews, Jackson and his crew made the decision not to impose any modern voices of scholars, historians, or Great War enthusiasts in the film, but rather to allow only the soldiers themselves, who had taken part in action on the Western Front, to speak over the images. There are dozens of these voices, never identified in the actual film but listed by name and by affiliation in the ending credits. The comments, coupled with corresponding images, are arranged in a kind of chronology, beginning with memories of how the men came to enlist (we learn how many of them were too young, perhaps 16 or 17, but lied about their ages in order to join up), then moving on to their basic training, their arrival on the continent, and then their experiences in the trenches—the camaraderie among the troops, the miseries of lice and of rats, the horrors as well as the excitement of actual combat, the terrors of tanks and gas warfare, relationships with German prisoners, the numbness felt at the ceasefire, and the difficulties of resuming any normal life on their return home.

Jackson makes no political statement in the film, makes no attempt to analyze the war’s meaning or results from a historical perspective. He does not try to give a sweeping presentation of all aspects of the war, ignoring the eastern front, the war at sea and the introduction of airplanes in combat, or the war on the home front and the role of women in factories. He admits all of this (and describes how he made the film) in a half-hour commentary that follows the film in the theaters that you can stay to watch. He decided early on that the film would focus only on the experience of trench warfare, that aspect of the war that has become synonymous with our impressions of World War I over the years. And this the film captures to an uncanny extent. You have literally never seen anything like it.

The film premiered last October 16 in Great Britain at the London Film Festival and in selected theaters, and was broadcast on BBC Two on the centennial of the Armistice that ended the war on November 11. It had a very limited U.S. release through Fathom Events on December 17 and 27, then was released in New York and Los Angeles on January 11, and finally in 25 other markets in February. It was nominated for a BAFTA Award as Best Documentary, but missed the filing deadline to be eligible for an Oscar nomination—and cannot be nominated for 2019 either, since it was released in 2018. This is a shame, because it is a monumental achievement.

It turns out the title is not simply an allusion to the patriotic “Ode of Remembrance.” It is also a statement that has become literally true: The young men filmed in these century-old images have been restored to their youth through the magic of Jackson’s technology. This is remarkably poignant with a group of Lancashire fusiliers, grouped before moving into battle in one section of the film. Jackson tells us in the commentary following the film that this group of men was almost completely wiped out in the subsequent attack—we are seeing them in the last 30 minutes of their lives. But as the title says, they have not grown old: Jackson has succeeded, in a sense, in resurrecting them from the dead. This is a miracle that you need to see for yourself. Four Shakespeares for this one.

NOW AVAILABLE!!!

Jay Ruud’s most recent novel, Lost in the Quagmire: The Quest of the Grail, IS NOW available from the publisher AS OF OCTOBER 15. You can order your copy direct from the publisher (Encircle Press) at http://encirclepub.com/product/lost-in-the-quagmire/You can also order an electronic version from Smashwords at https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/814922

LostInTheQuagmircover

When Sir Galahad arrives in Camelot to fulfill his destiny, the presence of Lancelot’s illegitimate son disturbs Queen Guinevere. But the young knight’s vision of the Holy Grail at Pentecost inspires the entire fellowship of the Round Table to rush off in quest of Christendom’s most holy relic. But as the quest gets under way, Sir Gawain and Sir Ywain are both seriously wounded, and Sir Safer and Sir Ironside are killed by a mysterious White Knight, who claims to impose rules upon the quest. And this is just the beginning. When knight after knight turns up dead or gravely wounded, sometimes at the hands of their fellow knights, Gildas and Merlin begin to suspect some sinister force behind the Grail madness, bent on nothing less than the destruction of Arthur and his table. They begin their own quest: to find the conspirator or conspirators behind the deaths of Arthur’s good knights. Is it the king’s enigmatic sister Morgan la Fay? Could it be Arthur’s own bastard Sir Mordred, hoping to seize the throne for himself? Or is it some darker, older grievance against the king that cries out for vengeance? Before Merlin and Gildas are through, they are destined to lose a number of close comrades, and Gildas finds himself finally forced to prove his worth as a potential knight, facing down an armed and mounted enemy with nothing less than the lives of Merlin and his master Sir Gareth at stake.

Order from Amazon here: https://www.amazon.com/Lost-Quagmire-Quest-Merlin-Mystery/dp/1948338122

Order from Barnes and Noble here: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/lost-in-the-quagmire-jay-ruud/1128692499?ean=9781948338127

stan-and-ollie-trailer-1019188-1537270204

Stan & Ollie

Stan & Ollie

Jon S. Baird (2018)

Ruud Rating

4 Shakespeares

Before Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, before Martin and Lewis, before Abbott and Costello, before Hope and Crosby, there was Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, the quintessential comic duo who influenced every one of those later pairs with their combination of physical and verbal humor, their trademark characters, their bowler hats and silly dances. From Samuel Beckett to Monty Python to Kurt Vonnegut, Laurel and Hardy’s fingerprints are all over twentieth-century humor. Stan Laurel, an Englishman (born Arthur Stanley Jefferson) who started out in Vaudeville as Charlie Chaplin’s understudy, found a home in Hollywood and had appeared in some 50 films, while also writing and directing, before being teamed up with Oliver Hardy (born Norvell Hardy in Harlem, Georgia). “Babe” Hardy, as his friends called him, had already appeared in 250 silent shorts before producer Hal Roach, to whom they were both under contract (separately), decided to put the two of them together in the silent short Putting Pants on Philip in 1927. And the rest is history.

The relatively small and thin Stan adopted the character of an ineffectual blundering optimist in a bowler hat with a bowtie and loose-fitting coat, playing against Oliver’s large, heavy, overconfident blowhard with a toothbrush mustache, wearing a bowler of his own, a necktie he could flap about, and a too-small suitcoat. As these characters, the duo made 32 short silent films, 40 short sound films, and 23 full-length feature films, including the classics Babes in Toyland, Sons of the Desert, Way Out West, and The Flying Deuces.

One of the best movies of this year (by which I mean 2018, since it has taken so long for the film to reach central Arkansas, where you can see it only at Riverdale 10) is a loving and gentle tribute to the beloved film duo, a little British film called Stan & Ollie. From director Jon S. Baird (known chiefly for TV series like Babylon), and written for the screen by Jeff Pope (Oscar-nominated for his screenplay of Philomena), the film is an engaging bro-mance featuring intelligent, subtle and brilliant performances by John C. Reilly as Ollie (which earned him a Golden Globe nomination for best actor in a musical or comedy) and Steve Coogan, Pope’s co-writer on Philomena, as Stan (for which he has been nominated for a BAFTA award for best actor). While the film is also nominated for “Outstanding British Film of the Year” by BAFTA, it was strangely ignored in this year’s Oscar nominations, though it is a far better film than most of those nominated.

The film begins with a kind of prelude set in 1937, at the height of the duo’s popularity, with a scene in which we follow the two stars across a movie lot in a long sustained shot as they discuss their unfortunate love lives and then talk about renegotiating their contracts, something Stan is eager to do while Ollie doesn’t want to rock the boat. The two are the toast of Hollywood, and their salaries should reflect that, Stan insists, adding that they also should have control of their own pictures, as Chaplin does. When they reach the set of their current project, Stan makes his views known to Hal Roach (an appropriately slimy Danny Huston from Wonder Woman) while Ollie tries to put oil on the waters, and the discussion is tabled as the boys begin a hilarious dance number on the set of their comic western Way Out West.

Cut to sixteen years later. Now past their prime, the pair are struggling to reconnect with fans who believe they have been long retired, and engaged in an uphill battle against the new medium of television and a new taste in movie comedy underscored by a giant billboard for a new Abbot and Costello comedy that appears behind them in one scene. Stan and Ollie have signed on with a shyster producer named Bernard Delfont (Rufus Jones of TV’s WIA), who has arranged a string of live performances across Great Britain and Ireland. Ollie believes they are doing this to raise money and awareness for a new film project—a spoof of Robin Hood that Stan has been working on and trying to sell to a London producer. We see the two of them in cramped, second-rate hotels, booked into small theater venues and attracting tiny but appreciative audiences. At the same time, we watch their friendship, strained and teetering under myriad small, unspoken betrayals over the years, waiting to burst apart. Ollie’s failure to support Stan in contract negotiations and his seeking a better deal at another studio, his working with another partner after Stan’s desertion, not to mention little allusions to problems with alcoholism all come out and seem to have contributed to the partners’ fall from popularity.

The crowds, and the hotels, gradually improve after numerous Delfont-directed publicity stunts by which Stand and Ollie draw attention to their tour, so that by the time they reach their climactic gig in London they appear to be on the brink of a real comeback. They have also invited their wives to meet them in London: Lucille Hardy (Shirley Henderson of TVs HappyValley) and Ida Kitaeva Laurel (Nina Ariana of Florence Foster Jenkins) arrive and, with their own verbal sparring, cause some of the onlookers to comment that they’ve gotten two double acts for the price of one. What Stan hasn’t told Ollie in all this time, however, is that the Robin Hood film has been rejected by the London studio, and will not be happening.

The climax of the film comes at a party thrown in London to welcome and honor the boys, a party at which the cracks in their complicated relationship finally burst apart. Stan complains about Ollie’s laziness and willingness to be taken advantage of rather than make any waves, while Ollie comes back and, more bitterly, accuses Stan of being a hollow person with no real affection for anyone. When Stan throws food at Ollie’s head as he storms out, the party guests applaud, thinking it was all part of the act.

It’s a lovers’ quarrel, of course, and one that, given the nature of the film as a somewhat sentimental and bittersweet romantic comedy, you will certainly hope will be transcended as the film moves toward its conclusion, which I will not, of course, reveal. The performances carry this film. Both Coogan and Reilly portray the individual comic icons with a light touch, suggesting Laurel’s driven anxiety and Hardy’s relaxed ease without falling into caricature of the duo’s famous personae. Huston and Jones are sufficiently unlikeable in their roles as the heavies of the film, and Henderson and Ariana are memorable in relatively small roles—Ariana in particular stands out as Laurel’s Russian wife, virtually stealing every scene she is in. It’s interesting, as well, watching Mrs. Hardy’s uptight demeanor as contrasted with Mrs. Laurel’s blunt nonchalance: It’s almost as if, in their spouses, each of the men has matched himself with a woman who embodied major traits of his acting partner.

The film is ultimately a nostalgic blast for fans of Laurel and Hardy, and a loving introduction to their work for those too young to remember them. Some may find this quiet film disappointing, the comic bits lacking the brashness or outrageousness expected in contemporary comedies. Some may find the final act of the film too sentimental for their tastes, real as it may be. I did not find it so, on either count. When I complain about current films, my wife will often remind me “You’re not the intended audience.” And she is always right. In this case, I guess I was the intended audience. In any case, I’m going to go so far as to give this film four Shakespeares. Try and stop me! If you think you might like this film, you are already part of the intended audience too. So you ought to go and see it.

NOW AVAILABLE!!!

Jay Ruud’s most recent novel, Lost in the Quagmire: The Quest of the Grail, IS NOW available from the publisher AS OF OCTOBER 15. You can order your copy direct from the publisher (Encircle Press) at http://encirclepub.com/product/lost-in-the-quagmire/You can also order an electronic version from Smashwords at https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/814922

LostInTheQuagmircover

When Sir Galahad arrives in Camelot to fulfill his destiny, the presence of Lancelot’s illegitimate son disturbs Queen Guinevere. But the young knight’s vision of the Holy Grail at Pentecost inspires the entire fellowship of the Round Table to rush off in quest of Christendom’s most holy relic. But as the quest gets under way, Sir Gawain and Sir Ywain are both seriously wounded, and Sir Safer and Sir Ironside are killed by a mysterious White Knight, who claims to impose rules upon the quest. And this is just the beginning. When knight after knight turns up dead or gravely wounded, sometimes at the hands of their fellow knights, Gildas and Merlin begin to suspect some sinister force behind the Grail madness, bent on nothing less than the destruction of Arthur and his table. They begin their own quest: to find the conspirator or conspirators behind the deaths of Arthur’s good knights. Is it the king’s enigmatic sister Morgan la Fay? Could it be Arthur’s own bastard Sir Mordred, hoping to seize the throne for himself? Or is it some darker, older grievance against the king that cries out for vengeance? Before Merlin and Gildas are through, they are destined to lose a number of close comrades, and Gildas finds himself finally forced to prove his worth as a potential knight, facing down an armed and mounted enemy with nothing less than the lives of Merlin and his master Sir Gareth at stake.

Order from Amazon here: https://www.amazon.com/Lost-Quagmire-Quest-Merlin-Mystery/dp/1948338122

Order from Barnes and Noble here: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/lost-in-the-quagmire-jay-ruud/1128692499?ean=9781948338127

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The Kid Who Would Be King

The Kid Who Would Be King

Joe Cornish (2019)

King Arthur has not generally fared particularly well in the movies, especially lately. Guy Ritchie’s King Arthur: The Legend of the Sword, despite its whiz-bang special effects and star studded cast, was so horrible I could barely keep my popcorn down. The problem was that the film took a few motifs from the traditional legend and made up a whole lot of crazy stuff about them that gave no thought to any traditional telling of the story. Antoine Fuqua’s equally Hollywoodized 2004 film of King Arthur also fizzled, even with Clive Owen and Keira Knightley giving it their best shot. It was less horrible than Ritchie’s version, but still hit the wrong note, advertising itself as a “demystified version” of the tale, which apparently meant making up a whole new story that had nothing at all to do with the Arthurian legend but was deemed to be “historical.”

As a result, some folks may be thinking that the legend of Arthur is no longer valid or applicable to contemporary society. But of course, that is precisely the thinking that made Ritchie or Fuqua completely gut and renovate the story, with disastrous results, so that the idea becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s not that, to be successful, a film needs to slavishly follow the story as told in Malory or in Tennyson. Every new version of the Arthurian legend adds something, or gives a twist to something that has come before. But in all cases, a successful retelling shows some awareness of the story as traditionally told, and so gives it an intelligent new twist. It’s no accident that the most successful film ever made based on Arthurian legend is Monty Python and the Holy Grail, not because it makes up a whole new story, but because the Pythons, particularly director Terry Jones, were extremely well versed in medieval history and in the traditional elements of the Arthurian legend. So the moral is, there’s nothing irrelevant in Arthurian tradition. It’s like anything else: Make a decent movie and people will come to see it.

Which is why I do have some hope for The Kid Who Would Be King, which opened this past weekend in the United States. Joe Cornish (Attack the Block), who directed the film and wrote the screenplay, does seem to have actually familiarized himself with some genuine Arthurian lore. In particular, Cornish evinces some familiarity with T.H. White’s classic modern version of the legend, The Once and Future King. Opening sequences of the film are animated and reflect to some extent Disney’s Sword in the Stone (based on the first section of White’s book), and the phrase “Once and Future King” is used several times in the film. The depiction of Merlin owes a great deal to White, as Cornish includes White’s idea of Merlin living backwards, and further associates Merlin with an owl, as White does in the form of Merlin’s pet Archimedes. Further, the idea of the quest forms the structure of the film, as it does most Arthurian romances, and, significantly, Cornish is actually interested in the concept of chivalry, an idea that seems passé to peddlers of medieval motifs in films these days.

The film’s premise is in keeping with certain aspects of Arthurian legend. King Arthur’s half-sister Morgana (Rebecca Ferguson of the Mission: Impossible franchise) tried to undermine Arthur’s reign by stealing his enchanted sword Excalibur (yes, that’s straight out of Thomas Malory). Thus she was defeated and condemned to live perpetually imprisoned in an underworld, but she threatened to return at a time when the people of Britain became so divided and lacking in moral compass that they would be unable to pull together and resist the threat of true evil. Turns out that time has come: It’s certainly Cornish’s comment on the current Brexit debacle in Britain, but surely he also believes the portrayal of disunion and moral and political turpitude will resonate just as soundly with current American audiences as well.

In Arthurian legend, King Arthur is taken at the point of death to Avalon to dwell with the Lady of the Lake and have his wounds tended. He will wait there until the time when Britain needs him most. This is what makes him the once and future king—he was king once and will be king in the future, when he returns. Morgana’s threat to come back and enslave humanity in this film is surely the time that Britain needs Arthur the most, and in this film, that “return” takes the form of a new hero drawing the sword from the stone.

In contemporary Britain, 12-year-old Alex (Louis Ashbourne Serkis, son of Andy) spends his days trying to live decently, to avoid his school’s bullies, the bigger and meaner Lance (Tom Taylor of TV’s Doctor Foster) and Kaye (Rhianna Dorris from TV’s The Secret Life of Boys), and to support his friend Bedders (Dean Chaumoo) and protect himfrom bullying. Falling into a deserted construction site one evening while running from the bullies, Alex comes upon a sword sticking out of a large block of concrete, and pulls it out with ease, thus indicating he is the savior chosen to protect the kingdom.

Uncovering the sword means that Morgana will be coming to find it, and Alex gains the support of a very quirky new student at his school who calls himself Marlin (Angus Imrie of TV’s The Hollow Crown), who is of course actually Merlin himself, returned from wherever he’s been hiding these past fifteen centuries in order to assist Alex in defeating Morgana’s assault, which will occur during a solar eclipse in four days. Alex, needing all the help he can get and realizing that to win, he must, like King Arthur, turn his enemies into allies, knights Lance and Kaye as well as Bedders (that’s Lancelot, Kay, and Bedivere, in case you didn’t catch it) in order to stave off the fiery mounted zombie knights who rise each night to try to destroy him in advance of Morgana’s rising.

Of course, Lance and Kaye aren’t particularly sanguine supporters, and much of the film is devoted to their conversion to the cause. In the meantime Alex, accompanied by Merlin and his three knights, decides on a journey to Tintagel in Cornwall (the place Arthur himself was born) in order to find his father. If this sounds like a lot of archetypal Hero journey motifs coming at you, consider this: In Tintagel, Alex is drawn into an underground cave where he confronts Morgana herself (the archetypal Jungian Shadow, representing his fears and doubts) and emerges all the stronger for the final confrontation with evil.

Any more of this would be spoiler territory. But in the end, the movie does deliver on its promises. It is a creditable Arthurian romp. The child actors are not cloying or talentless, though they tend to be rather bland, except for Irei who is something of a hoot as the boy wizard with magic hand movements, who turns into an owl at will and, occasionally, turns into his Old Man Wizard self in the form of Patrick Stewart looking like a ragged Gandalf but adding a bit of gravitas to the part.

This is a family film, and in many ways is geared toward kids on a pre-teen level, although adults, particularly Gen-Xers, will be pleasantly reminded of some of the kid-adventure films of their youth, especially ’80s films like E.T., Adventures in Babysitting, or, especially, The Goonies. The synthesizer-heavy score by Electric Wave Bureau seems particularly designed to give the movie that old-time ’80s atmosphere. But it is kid-focused, so the sociopolitical implications are pretty heavy handed, and there’s nothing subtle about the plot. It’s also over-long. The “message” of the film is fairly blatant as well: We need to come together as a people to be strong enough to face the real perils ahead of us.

But the film’s virtues outweigh its defects. In recent years, the far right has popularly fantasized the Middle Ages in illogical and unsubstantiated ways that are absurd to any actual student of medieval history, literature, or culture, declaring (in a manner very similar to the way fascists in Germany and Spain romanticized the Middle Ages in the 1930s) that the natural superiority of white, Christian, European armies stopped Islamic expansion in later medieval times (never mind the actual facts that all but the first of the eight crusades was a dismal failure). The Kid Who Would Be King relegates such attitudes to the dustbin of history, where they belong, and stresses instead the true nature of chivalry as expressed in Arthurian literature: In a loose paraphrase of Malory’s Pentecost oath, taken by all of Arthur’s knights, Merlin in this film lays out four rules for the modern-day knights: 1) Honor those you love; 2) Refrain from wanton offense (that is, be “courteous” in the medieval sense, giving all people the respect they deserve); 3) Speak the truth; and 4) Persevere until the end. Those are rules that any culture, medieval or modern, might do well to live by.

Take your kids. Three Tennysons for this one.

NOW AVAILABLE!!!

Jay Ruud’s most recent novel, Lost in the Quagmire: The Quest of the Grail, IS NOW available from the publisher AS OF OCTOBER 15. You can order your copy direct from the publisher (Encircle Press) at http://encirclepub.com/product/lost-in-the-quagmire/You can also order an electronic version from Smashwords at https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/814922

LostInTheQuagmircover

When Sir Galahad arrives in Camelot to fulfill his destiny, the presence of Lancelot’s illegitimate son disturbs Queen Guinevere. But the young knight’s vision of the Holy Grail at Pentecost inspires the entire fellowship of the Round Table to rush off in quest of Christendom’s most holy relic. But as the quest gets under way, Sir Gawain and Sir Ywain are both seriously wounded, and Sir Safer and Sir Ironside are killed by a mysterious White Knight, who claims to impose rules upon the quest. And this is just the beginning. When knight after knight turns up dead or gravely wounded, sometimes at the hands of their fellow knights, Gildas and Merlin begin to suspect some sinister force behind the Grail madness, bent on nothing less than the destruction of Arthur and his table. They begin their own quest: to find the conspirator or conspirators behind the deaths of Arthur’s good knights. Is it the king’s enigmatic sister Morgan la Fay? Could it be Arthur’s own bastard Sir Mordred, hoping to seize the throne for himself? Or is it some darker, older grievance against the king that cries out for vengeance? Before Merlin and Gildas are through, they are destined to lose a number of close comrades, and Gildas finds himself finally forced to prove his worth as a potential knight, facing down an armed and mounted enemy with nothing less than the lives of Merlin and his master Sir Gareth at stake.

Order from Amazon here: https://www.amazon.com/Lost-Quagmire-Quest-Merlin-Mystery/dp/1948338122

Order from Barnes and Noble here: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/lost-in-the-quagmire-jay-ruud/1128692499?ean=9781948338127

Ruud Reviews Movie Rating Scale

4 Shakespeares

This is a great film.
You need to see it, or incur my wrath.

 

Tennysons

This movie is worth seeing.
I’d go if I were you. But then, I go to a lot of movies.

 

2 Jacqueline Susanns

If you like this kind of movie, you’ll probably be entertained by this one.
I wasn’t all that much.

 

1 Robert Southey

Skip it.
This one really isn’t worth your money. If you’re compelled to see it anyway, at least be smart enough to wait until you can see it for less money on Netflix or HBO. If you go see it in the theater, I may never speak to you again.