Not a Legend, Not a Flop – A Review of King Arthur

Click HERE for the Audio Edition!

Another film review from the Penn-Mar Literary Critics! Many thanks to Avellina for joining me on this venture into Arthurian legend.

Be advised that this entry contains spoilers!


 

I will not pretend that King Arthur: Legend of the Sword was a good movie. It was average at best, mediocre at worst. It managed to be better than Beowulf or Dracula Untold but did not reach the level of Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones. And yet, to my surprise, I rather enjoyed it.

King Arthur is a popcorn film, a Pacific Rim in the fantasy genre. It focuses on CGI action and glib character moments rather than the deeper tales of good and evil. It has the look of such epic films in many respects, (the production values are quite good) but lacks something vital that keeps it from true greatness. Well, actually, it lacks a lot of things. It’s filled with internal inconsistencies, plot holes the size of Miami, a magic system with no real rules, an over-emphasis on action that looks good rather than what makes sense, gratuitous CGI, inability to really distinguish between characters (especially the women), and a tragic, almost criminal under-use of Jude Law.
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Permutations of the Soul

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“Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter.”

— Jedi Master Yoda, from The Empire Strikes Back

 

Souls permeate fantasy. You find them everywhere. In books like the Vlad Taltos series; in movies like Crimson Peak; in television shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer; in video games like Jade Empire; in anime like Soul Eater; and manga like Fullmetal Alchemist. Even if souls are not the focus of the story, it is almost always assumed that souls exist. In some universes, all living things have souls, while in others only sentient races have them. In a few, only humanity is granted this unique ability to transcend oblivion.

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Inferior Origins

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Kira at the Gelfling Wall of Destiny (screenshot from The Dark Crystal)

Kira at the Wall of Destiny

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Who doesn’t love a good origin story?

Whenever I get into a fictional universe, be it books, movies, TV shows, or video games, I dig deep.  Those characters with shady or mysterious pasts are the most intriguing; we want to know how they became the person we know now.  If you’ve read (and enjoyed) The Symphony of Ages series by Elizabeth Haydon, you probably want to know Achmed’s full backstory more than anything else.  We get tantalizing hints, but no more.  Tolkien’s book The Silmarillion explores the history of the elves and Middle-Earth in almost excruciating detail.  People clamored so much for more stories about Drizzt Do’Urden that R.A. Salvatore gave them the drow ranger’s backstory in the form of The Dark Elf Trilogy.  Amazing RPGs like Mass Effect and Dragon Age cover the history of their worlds, the aspects of the places explored there, and the characters you encounter.  And isn’t that what a lot of modern RPGs are all about?  Exploration?  How was this world created?  What happened before the story that we see?  A good origin story is a fascinating and rewarding journey.

Of course, the key word here is “good.”  Not knowing parts of a universe’s history or the origins of a character leads to all kinds of juicy speculation, head canon, and fan fiction.  Sometimes the creators even deign to answer those burning questions for us.  That’s fine and dandy, but there is a dark side to it.  No matter how much I may want to know, “What happened?!” a part of me is always a bit wary when official works drop in to fill the gaps.

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Modern Mythology

In case anyone missed the Twitter memo (and I’m sure some of you did), I will not longer be posting an entry here on The Cat’s Cradle every week.  Life has just gotten too insane for me to keep up that kind of pace. At least, not and maintain some quality control.  So, from now on, I’ll be posting every other week, roughly 2 entries per month.  I hope that you’ll all stick around and continue to enjoy them!

With things in my own life fluctuating madly, I thought it rather relevant to say that we live in an increasingly uncertain world.  As Don Henley says, “The more I know, the less I understand.”  Nihilism and existentialism isn’t new, but I personally feel it encroaching further and further into the human psyche.

What do we have to believe in?

If you watch the news, not much.  Every day there appears to be more death, destruction, and wanton waste of life.  Corruption and exploitation run rampant.  Ignorance and idiocy walk hand in hand as common sense becomes more precious than gold or diamonds.  The honest and the honorable are pushed to the sidelines, trampled on, or ridiculed.  And in an increasingly secular world, faith doesn’t seem to have a place anymore.

So, what can we believe in?  Who can be role models?  What can inspire us to become more than we are, better than we are?  Or to at least help us make some kind of sense of this insane world of ours?

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Everything Old Is New Again: How Not To Be Afraid of Clichés

Cliché.  Perhaps the most dreaded word in the history of writing.  The last thing any writer wants to hear about their work is, “This story is so unoriginal.  It’s riddled with clichés!”

The dictionary definition of a cliché is:

  1. a trite, stereotyped expression; a sentence or phrase, usually expressing a popular or common thought or idea, that has lost originality, ingenuity, and impact by long overuse, such as “sadder but wiser,” or “strong as an ox.”
  2. (in art, literature, drama, etc.) a trite or hackneyed plot, character development, use of color, musical expression, etc.
  3. anything that has become trite or commonplace through overuse.

It’s a word, phrase, stereotype, character type, or even storyline that is way, way, WAY overused.  I’ve heard some people accuse Shakespeare of using too many clichés.  Little do they realize that he came up with half of the expressions that were so witty and original at the time that everyone wanted to use them until society got sick of them.

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