Solomon Kane

solomon_kaneA few years ago I visited the Robert E. Howard Museum in Cross Plains, Texas. I was standing in the hallway outside the tiny bedroom where he’d done his writing (the museum is the house the famed creator of Conan the Barbarian grew up in) and Arlene, the woman giving me the tour, told me how a guy had stood in that room and recited from memory the poem, “Solomon Kane’s Homecoming,” and how stirring it had been. I can only imagine. To call those spirits up via booming oratory must have been something to behold.

Solomon Kane is another of Howard’s creations. Simply, he is a Puritan who travels around fighting evil and dark magic. I remember when I first read the stories I was somewhat taken aback. The majority of them take place in Africa, which was a surprise. A legendary swordsman, he is also more than willing to blast a villain in the face with his flintlock pistol as well. The stories are pure Howard, though; grim and dark, with lots of grit and dark magic swirling with evil. I enjoyed them.

This movie, the first to feature the character, was made in the Czech Republic in 2009. It didn’t get a North American release until 2012, though. I feared it was because it sucked, but a little digging will reveal generally favorable reviews. I don’t know that it ever really got a wide release in the USA. If it did, it certainly never played in Missoula. I’d been anticipating seeing it ever since I first heard about it, so when it finally came available for purchase, I jumped all over it.

I’m sure Howard purists hate it, just like they generally have most of the Conan movies that have been made (particularly the Jason Momoa version released in 2011). I’m not so picky. I just want the movie to be fun, work within the confines of its own world, and any flirtation with anything Howard-like is a bonus. I’m more than happy to let my imagination fill in all but the most glaring holes.

Solomon Kane delivers. James Purefoy (best known probably as Mark Antony in the Rome series from HBO) does a great job as Kane. The constant rain and darkness of the setting is also fantastic. The creepy evil (a scene with some ghouls in a burned-out church was as cool as anything fantasy movie-related I’ve seen) is pure Howard, and there is a pervading sense of dread and hopelessness throughout.

It is supposed to be an origin story about how Kane came to be the man he is in the Howard stories, something we didn’t really get from Howard (that I can recall). It has its share of problems; it certainly isn’t a “great movie” by any stretch of the imagination. There is a degree of predictability, some parts that made me groan a little, and it winds up getting a bit overblown, a problem that pervades modern action/adventure movies. But I found the character as portrayed close enough to the Kane I remembered to enjoy it, and taken as a dark fantasy sword swinging movie epic, it’s better than most. A few scenes were even excellent. I think there is a fairly high bar for this sort of thing, given the success of franchises like The Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones, and if this movie doesn’t equal them it certainly comes close enough for my tastes. Sadly, I doubt that the original plan to make this a trilogy will happen. Which is a shame, because I’d love to see a couple more. Purefoy makes a great lead for this kind of Swords & Sorcery & Mud action. I didn’t regret one moment of the late hours I spent staying up to watch this movie via iTunes on a Saturday night.

 

Before We Get Started, Does Anyone Want to Get Out?

Since I’m talking movies today, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention this one. People who are relatively new to reading stuff I post may not know I have a solid background in love for comic books, adventure novels, big budget summer blockbuster movies, etc. When the first Captain America movie came out a couple years ago, my anticipation for it was immense. The guy has been my favorite superhero since I was a little kid, up there with Batman. The movie didn’t disappoint, nor did the movie that gathered all these different Marvel characters together in epic fashion, The Avengers.

The trailer for the second Captain America movie just came out last week. I bet I’ve watched it ten times. Dig this:

I can’t freakin’ wait. It looks like elements of the Winter Soldier storyline from the comics, as well as the Civil War and Secret Avengers storylines. There are some references to scenes from the comics that just tickle me to death; the one referenced in this post’s title in particular.

Now, I’m not a big birthday guy. But this sucker is released on my next birthday, and there aren’t too many things in the world that would be capable of keeping my fat ass out of a seat at first opportunity. Midnight showing is highly likely, in fact.

Say what you want about this stuff. Be too cool, too sophisticated, too serious, whatever. The day I stop having fun with superheroes and sword-swinging barbarians and ass kicking and chivalry and all that stuff is the day I want to just go ahead and stop living. Yes, there is more to life than this, all kinds of different art to enjoy, whatever . . . but as a dreamy, introverted, insecure kid growing up in the country I wouldn’t be the person I am today without this stuff, and I will love it to the end of my days.

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Also, for a well-considered breakdown of Steve Rogers/Captain America, at least the comics version, check out this essay.

 

Lost Coast

There is a new trailer up for a movie whose crowdfunding efforts I contributed to some time ago. It’s called Lost Coast and it looks intriguing.

Looks hypnotic, doesn’t it? I really don’t even know what it’s “about” for sure, but I don’t care. I love that stretch of coastline, Northern California all the way up into the Pacific Northwest, and I could stare at images of it for hours on end; next best thing to being there, really. I’ve been dying to get out to that coast lately. Watching this trailer and hearing the waves battering the shoreline, I can almost smell it. It wouldn’t take much urging for me to get in my car right now and drive out to the Oregon or Washington coast.

I own two previous movies that Slowboat Films have made — The Folk Singer and The Kingdom of Survival — and I enjoy them both. Most of all though I love that filmmakers like Slowboat exist, and that there is a way for them to get their films out into the world. These are people I’d like to sit in a grubby bar with and talk rabble rousing. . . .

 

Feel Good Hit of the Summer

world-war-z-posterLast weekend Julia and I ordered up some pizza (take out, since we live in the wilderness now)(i.e. a place that doesn’t get pizza delivery) and watched via Blu Ray a movie we’d intended to see in the theater but never got around to, World War Z. This movie, based on the novel by Max Brooks, was more than just a star vehicle for Brad Pitt: he played a major role in getting rights to it and getting it made. It didn’t seem to be a story that could be made into a film, as the book isn’t a traditional novel in any sense. Instead, it is a fake “oral history” of a war against zombies that has recently been fought. It is broken up into sections, each totally different from the last, capturing the stories of different people and how they managed during the events. No central character, no central theme, nothing. I loved the book, and I was curious to see if the filmmakers managed to pull it off. For my money, they did. Big time. I thoroughly enjoyed this movie.

I’m not a zombie movie guy. In fact of all the “supernatural” entities that books and movies regularly come back to — vampires, werewolves, zombies, etc. — they are far and away my least favorite. But this really isn’t a “zombie movie” at all. It is more of an action/adventure movie, which is right up my alley. The zombies are the villains, certainly, but they really aren’t even in the movie all that much.

So the premise is some virus has swept across the earth and civilization starts to crumble. Brad Pitt’s character is a former employee of the UN, who apparently did a lot of work in hot spots around the world. He gets dragged into the plan to take this young doctor to South Korea to investigate the possible origin of the virus. One thing leads to another, and Pitt finds himself needing to complete the doctor’s work. So he becomes the central thread of the story, and the individual stories ala how the book is written are the different places he goes and the people he encounters.

Pitt is a tough guy, but he’s no ex-military badass. He is the type of action character I prefer. He’s smart, observant, and a survivor. He does kick some ass when it’s necessary, but he takes a hell of a beating too. I found the movie fun and exciting, and it kept me on the edge of my seat. At PG-13, it wasn’t full of graphic violence either. Their was some grossness, sure, but what violence there was was more implied than splashed across the screen, and that is more effective in my opinion anyway.

Sure there are holes that can be punched in the movie, and there are a few problems. But it destroys most of the action movies I’ve seen lately, and was two hours of entertaining escapism, which was exactly what I wanted from it. I’ll definitely see it again.

 

Behind the Music

soundcity-poster-pYou know for a “writing” blog, or at least the blog of a “writer” of some kind, I really don’t talk about writing much. Certainly not writing advice, mainly because I don’t have any; I figure there are enough blowhards out there driving frustrated writers down conflicting paths to misery. But even my own writing I don’t talk about much. So here’s a little update. I haven’t been doing much fiction writing at all lately, though I have a couple story ideas clattering around, and some notes taken here and there, and I have a pretty solid novel idea with a few notes here and there as well. However, the bulk of what I’ve been working on is freelance nonfiction writing. Have some irons in the fire, some stuff that will see the light of day in a few months, things like that. I’ve written the occasional piece for the Missoula Independent as well. I mention it because there is a piece out today that is about something I really dig — the music documentary Sound City produced and directed by Dave Grohl.

I hope you check out my review in the Indy today. Here’s a little excerpt:

As a guy who has made music with friends for many, many hours in recording studios, the film hits me where my heart is when it comes to the creative process and how music should be recorded. Forget digital cutting and pasting. Forget perfect performances. I want bands live in a room, making music together, playing the songs as a unit to capture living, breathing, human performances. Other musicians and music geeks of similar values—those graybeards and kids digging through vinyl bins at record stores—will no doubt agree.

That snippet really sums it for me, in many ways. It was tough — really tough — to squeeze what I think of this documentary down to 700 words, but it came out okay. I feel like music, and my various pursuits in it, really defined the first 35 years or so of my life, and, once the realities of those failed efforts set in, left me flailing for the last ten or so, bitter and jaded and cynical and surly. Sometimes it’s hard to even listen to music, because so much of it is an ache akin to visiting places where you spent time with a former love, or with someone who has moved or passed away. Writing is a creative pursuit that I’ve been trying to plug the holes with, and it has worked to varying degrees, but I’m not there yet. It’s hard to imagine that writing will ever provide the kind of euphoria that fragmented moments on stage or in the studio have, but I’m trying. It’s a totally different discipline; I’ve found nothing in writing that comes close to that moment of connection that happens when you are playing with people you’ve labored hours in rehearsal with, and everything is clicking, and there are people in the audience connecting at the same time. It can be truly transcendent. I think Sound City captures what that can be like, what it has been like. It’s a fantastic achievement.

As for writing, we’ll see. I enjoy it, and I realize I’ve tried to make it something it’s not. So I’m working to discover exactly what it is. I may ultimately throw in the towel for something else . . . but not today.