Friday, November 18, 2016

Is This the Most Underrated Noir Film? (Woman on the Run Movie Review)

The Story: After witnessing a mafia hit, a man goes on the run to try to stay ahead of those who want to silence him. Of all the people searching for him, none searches harder than his bitter wife, despite their marriage being in shambles. As she searches, she begins to realize that their marriage is worth saving, but will her husband live long enough for it to matter?

My Thoughts: Though Woman on the Run is somewhat obscure, what few reviews I could find of it recommended it highly, so I gave it a shot. I wasn’t sure what to make of it early on, but as the story progressed, I became convinced that the reviews had been right. This is an excellent thriller, perhaps the most underrated of all noir films, and it deserves to be more widely known.

The fast-paced and suspenseful plot is filled with snappy dialogue and memorable scenes. One such scene involves a woman who is trapped on a roller coaster right as a murder is about to take place below the ride. Despite desperately wanting to help, she can do nothing to stop what is coming or warn the victim. No one is able to distinguish her screams from the noise being made by all the other people who are at the theme park.

The main message of Woman on the Run is also notable, since it is strong and clear without being overbearing. The events of the story encourage spouses to work hard to know and love each other in marriage instead of letting problems push them apart. Few films have managed to so perfectly balance a bold message and a well-executed plot. I hope that in the future more viewers will get to see this classic movie.

Content Overview: Mild violence.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Watch Out for Poison Ivy

TRC magazine just released my newest article, "Watch Out for Poison Ivy." It's about an important spiritual lesson that the poison ivy plant illustrates.

You can read the article here.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

The Mindwar Trilogy by Andrew Klavan (Book Review)

The Story: A wildly creative terrorist has created a virtual reality realm that will allow him to hack into any computer system in the world. He plans to use this power to destroy the United States. To combat this threat, the American government recruits a crippled teenage boy who has a talent for winning video games. The boy must be hooked up to a machine that will allow him to enter the virtual reality realm and try to destroy it. Yet anything that happens in the realm will happen to his body--including death.

My Thoughts: I’ve enjoyed several of Andrew Klavan’s previous YA novels, particularly Nightmare City and the Homelanders series. The Mindwar trilogy is comprised of Mindwar, Hostage Run, and Game Over. Some trilogies have a weak middle book or third book, but that isn’t the case with the Mindwar trilogy. All three books are well-written, with plenty of action, good characterizations, and memorable fantastical imagery in the virtual reality realm.

I believe that the trilogy marks the first time Klavan has written science fiction, but he does a pretty good job at making the technology believable. The specific rules of the virtual reality realm are occasionally ambiguous, which sometimes robs certain scenes of their suspense, since at any moment an unknown element of the realm might provide the hero with assistance. Overall, however, the realm is a fascinating place, and the trilogy that is set in it is well worth reading for sci-fi and action fans of all ages.

Content Overview: Mild violence.

You might also be interested in my reviews of Nightmare City and the Homelanders series.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Free on Kindle Unlimited: A Great Sci-Fi Series

One of my favorite science fiction authors, J. Grace Pennington, has just released the newest volume of her YA sci-fi series Firmament. Reversal Zone is book four in the series. Firmament, like Star Trek, follows the adventures of the crew of a starship, but from the perspective of a starship nurse instead of the captain.

Although I’ll be ordering a paperback of Reversal Zone since I prefer print books, I thought I’d mention that the whole Firmament series is free to read digitally on Kindle Unlimited. Anyone who has Kindle Unlimited and likes sci-fi should definitely give Firmament a try. The series is best read from the beginning, though any of the books can also be read on its own.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

A Family-Friendly Serial Killer Movie? (Strange Illusion Movie Review)

The Story: After having a nightmare that a wicked man is seeking to take over his widowed mother’s life, a young man returns home from college and is shocked to find that his mom has just started dating a man. Could his mom’s new suitor be a good person, or was the dream a premonition of a horror to come?

My Thoughts: I never thought I’d see a movie that could be described as “a serial killer mystery for the whole family,” but then I saw this film, and nothing can sum it up better than that. It’s great fun to watch the naive yet earnest and caring young man try to figure out whether or not his mom’s new suitor might be evil.

Although the story and acting seem a bit clunky by modern standards, the overall plotting at least is above average for the time period and holds up pretty well today. Because of that, Strange Illusion is a suspenseful tale worth seeing for fans of good old-fashioned thrillers. Sadly, Hollywood rarely makes movies like this anymore.

Content Overview: A small amount of mild violence, which might be too much for very young or sensitive children.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

The Uglies Trilogy by Scott Westerfeld (Book Review)

The Story: In a world where everyone is surgically turned into a Pretty at age sixteen, an Ugly girl is eagerly awaiting her transformation. She meets a friend who opposes this mandatory procedure, and learns that rebels exist, people who decide to keep the faces and bodies they were born with. Due to her interaction with this friend, she is given a horrifying choice by the government: betray her friend and infiltrate the rebels, or stay an Ugly forever.

My Thoughts: The world depicted in the first book, Uglies, and its sequels is well-crafted, and I’d like to see it in movie form due to the striking visuals that are essential to the story. Both Uglies and the second book, Pretties, are powerful depictions of the heroine learning how to think for herself in a world where everyone is expected to be similar to everyone else and to not care about anything except partying. She is shown making mistakes, sometimes big ones, but she never stops trying to discover what’s right and hold to it.

The third book, Specials, feels more chaotic than the first two, with the story sometimes getting too rushed, but other than that, there’s not much to complain about. The ending strongly affirms that the freedom to be clear-thinking individuals who can ask questions is necessary to keep society healthy. Some people may find the frequent slang used in the series to be annoying, but it didn’t bother me, since it wasn’t confusing and it made the world feel more real. Overall, the Uglies trilogy is an entertaining read that may be worth trying even for those who don’t usually like dystopian novels, since it is not as dark as The Hunger Games.

Content Overview: A small amount of foul language. Several mentions of being nude, but no descriptions of it. Occasional vague implications that unmarried characters are sleeping together. Mild violence.

For another example of a dystopian series that isn't overly dark, see my review of the Shadow Children series by Margaret Peterson Haddix.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

The Amazing Mr. X (Movie Review)

The Story: A suave spiritualist promises to help a woman contact her deceased husband’s spirit, but the woman’s fiance and little sister are suspicious of the man. Is the spiritualist what he claims to be, or a con man, or something even more sinister?

My Thoughts: While this little-known film is perhaps not slick enough to please some modern viewers, fans of older movies, especially those of the mystery, horror, and thriller variety, will find much to like. It particularly surprised me by containing unusually well-done characterizations, including the complex title character.

The ending feels a bit clumsy, but it is adequate enough that it doesn’t hurt the film much. This movie begs to be remade with better writing at the end and the benefit of modern special effects. The right filmmakers could capture the irrepressible charm this movie has and polish it into something truly special.

Content Overview: Mild violence and scariness.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

What Band Makes the Best Music Videos?

An image from Family Force 5's "Cray Button" music video.

I listen to a lot of music, and I also watch a lot of music videos. Over the past few years, I’ve noticed that one band has stood out by consistently making the most entertaining music videos: Family Force 5.

This is perhaps not a comprehensive observation. I don’t watch all music videos that are released. Even so, the fact that I come back to re-watch the videos of Family Force 5 more than those of any other band shows that they are least in the top tier of bands when it comes to their music videos.

As an introduction to the videos of Family Force 5, here are their top 5 most popular music videos on YouTube.

#1 Chainsaw

#2 Cray Button

#3 Zombie

#4 Wobble


What band do you think makes the best music videos?

Monday, August 1, 2016

Snakebite (Western Short Story)

My newest short story, "Snakebite," just came out in TRC magazine. It's a humorous western tale about a preacher who takes on a gang of outlaws by pretending to be a ghost.

You can read the story online here.

Let me know what you think!

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Earl King (Free Audio Story)

The Untold Podcast has just released a high quality audio recording of my short story "Earl King." The story is about a young boy whose new friend gives him a magical jewel that can control his parents.

I greatly enjoyed getting to hear the story narrated with sound effects, and I hope you'll enjoy listening to it as well. You can listen to it for free here: The Untold Podcast - Episode 53 - Earl King

Monday, June 20, 2016

Don't Move

My newest published story, "Don't Move" is now out in Splickety magazine. "Don't Move" is about a camper who wakes up to find a rattlesnake has trapped him in his tent.

The issue of the magazine that "Don't Move" is in is available in print and as a digital copy from MagCloud, and is also available for Kindle.

Here's the neat cover of the issue:

Friday, May 6, 2016

The Joy of Otters

My newest article, "The Joy of Otters," was just published in TRC magazine. You can read it here.

This is my fourth article as a columnist for TRC. Since the magazine is quarterly, that means I've now been a columnist for one year. It's hard to believe that so much time has passed already.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Cinderella: The Swashbuckling Action TV Show?

A review of the TV show Cinderella.

The Story: After her father, an ambassador, leaves on a long journey, Cinderella is turned into a servant by her cruel stepmother. As her two spoiled stepsisters fight over who will get to marry the prince of their kingdom, Cinderella befriends a boy who she doesn’t know is the prince in disguise. Meanwhile, an evil duke sets out to take over the kingdom by any means necessary.

My Thoughts: This obscure animated TV show has a surprising amount of depth. It expands the fairy tale of Cinderella into an episodic adventure with swordfights, villains, and occasional fantasy interludes. Some of the episodes are duds, but most are well-written, with colorful animation that looks like living illustrations for a fairy tale.

The only notable flaw in the series is Cinderella herself, because she occasionally lets herself be pushed around by the bad people in her life. The story is trying to show that she’s really kind, but sometimes her actions appear to be more from weakness than kindness. This is especially true in the later episodes. Still, everything works out in the end, so her occasional instances of inexplicably passive behavior certainly don’t ruin the show.

Adult animation fans are likely to find Cinderella pleasant to watch due to the good animation, depth, and action. Children may especially like it, boys included, since the prince is involved in numerous swordfights. Cinderella is definitely above average for a children’s animated TV show.

Content Overview: Mild violence.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Red Rain Returns in the Short Story “Project 74”

The Story: In this prequel to Red Rain, a young and brilliant scientist is brought to Mars to work on a secret project. Once he learns the dark truth about the project, he has to decide whether to go along with it or put himself at risk by trying to stop it.

My Thoughts: The most important thing to know about this lengthy short story is that it is inseparable from the book Red Rain. Anyone who has read and enjoyed Red Rain is sure to also enjoy “Project 74.” The story deepened my understanding of characters from that book, and I liked getting to see more of characters who didn’t get much “screen time” in Red Rain.

For those who have yet to read Red Rain, it is probably helpful to know in advance that “Project 74” functions as a prequel to that book. I would not consider it a self-contained story, although fortunately you can quickly find out what happens next by getting Red Rain. If you are planning to read Red Rain, you might want to start with “Project 74,” an option that did not exist before, but which is the ideal place to start now.

Content Overview: A small amount of mild violence.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Redwall Fans Will Love The Mistmantle Chronicles by M. I. McAllister

The Story: On a wondrous island kingdom where a variety of anthropomorphic animals live together in peace, dangers in many forms threaten the island, but the good animals there always work together to battle evildoers and protect the innocent. The series contains five books: Urchin of the Riding Stars, Urchin and the Heartstone, The Heir of Mistmantle, Urchin and the Raven War, and Urchin and the Rage Tide.

My Thoughts: After being intrigued by this series for a long time, I finally picked up the first book and started reading. I quickly discovered that The Mistmantle Chronicles is an excellent anthropomorphic animal series in the tradition of the Redwall series by Brian Jacques. Although it is not as bold or colorful as the early books in the Redwall series, it has a lot to offer.

As with Redwall, the vivid characters are a big part of what makes it so readable. And unlike Redwall, the books follow the same characters as they grow and have many adventures together. Even though the Redwall series is much longer, the world The Mistmantle Chronicles is set in is more thoroughly developed.

One of my favorite things about The Mistmantle Chronicles is that it is filled with Christian symbolism and ideas. Characters pray, show the value of faith, and even learn fairly complex theological lessons, all in a series that was released by a secular publisher. I highly recommend this series to fans of anthropomorphic animal fantasy and fans of good fantasy novels in general.

Content Overview: Mild violence.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

There’s Something Magical About the TV Show The Magician

A TV Review of The Magician.

The Story: In a dystopian-tinged future, a world-famous magician amazes the world with his tricks. Unknown to most people, he and his assistant work with a policeman to battle the flamboyant villains that populate their corrupt city. His life is complicated even further due to his love for the daughter of one of the city’s most notorious criminals.

My Thoughts: I saw The Magician on TV when I was a child. Not long after airing, it seemed to be forgotten by most people, but I always remembered it as a unique and unusually well-done animated show. I got a chance to watch it again recently, and I was impressed. It’s a bit like what would happen if Batman was a famous magician instead of a billionaire with cool equipment. The concept is surprisingly entertaining, particularly since a variety of colorful villains appear and the characterizations are much deeper than normal for a kid’s show.

The Magician does have some notable flaws. The hero’s powers are not explained and are used inconsistently, which some people might find distracting. Characters occasionally act in ways that fit the story instead of their personality. In rare cases the animation quality is lower than usual. To me, the show being so amazingly good overall made it easy to overlook the flaws and enjoy it. The Magician is definitely one of the best children’s animated shows ever made, and worth watching for adults who like animation.

Content Overview: Despite being a children’s show, there’s occasional foul language. And, of course, there’s mild violence.

Friday, March 11, 2016

7 Great Rock Songs That Are 7 Minutes or Longer

I like rock songs in general, no matter the length. Long songs, however, tend to get overlooked by many people due to not being as radio-friendly as short songs. To help fix that, I made a list of my top 7 favorite rock songs that are 7 minutes or longer.

#1 “I AM” by Theocracy

Theocracy has a lot of great songs that are over 7 minutes long, but this is my favorite.

#2 “Prodigal Son Suite” by Keith Green

In addition to being one of the best long rock songs ever composed, this is also one of the greatest story songs ever written.

#3 “November Rain” by Guns N’ Roses

This unforgettable epic is the longest song to ever enter the top ten on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart.

#4 “Laying the Demon to Rest” by Theocracy

Yes, more Theocracy. They can’t help but dominate a list of the best long rock songs, since epic-length masterpieces are their specialty.

#5 “High Hopes” by Pink Floyd

In the tradition of a previous classic, “Comfortably Numb,” Pink Floyd delivers another haunting masterpiece with “High Hopes.”

#6 “The Gift of Music” by Theocracy

This is the last song by Theocracy on the list. I promise. If, however, I’d made a “10 great rock songs over 7 minutes” list, Theocracy would have probably provided the other three songs.

#7 “Ground Zero” by Kerry Livgren

Picking up where he left off with the rock band Kansas, Kerry Livgren created another quirky symphonic classic with this song.

What are your favorite rock songs that are over 7 minutes long?

Friday, March 4, 2016

Here’s a Dystopian Series for Readers Who Usually Don’t Like Dystopian Novels

A book review of the Shadow Children series by Margaret Peterson Haddix.

The Story: In a future where a ruthless government rules and it is illegal to have more than two children, one third child, a boy, lives a secret life on his family’s farm. When the government decides to build a new neighborhood next to the farm, he is forced to stay hidden in house. Then, one day, the sight of another third child draws him out of the house and into a rebellion that seeks to overthrow the government and legalize third children.

My Thoughts: I had avoided this series for awhile due to it appearing to be a generic, shallow dystopian series for young readers, but the first book, Among the Hidden, quickly proved me wrong. The plot is simple but effective, and the characters, setting, and moral questions it raises are all complex and fascinating.

The second book, Among the Impostors, is just as good as the first. When the third book, Among the Betrayed, switched to focusing entirely on a different protagonist, I worried that the series would lose its way, but as it turned out, the only letdown about the book is that the plot is weaker than the first two, a flaw which never surfaces again in the next four books.

Books four through six, Among the Barons, Among the Brave, and Among the Enemy, sometimes switch protagonists for a whole book again, and while this occasionally gets annoying due to wanting to know what other main characters are doing, the books in and of themselves are all as good as the first two in the series.

The last book, Among the Free, focuses once more on the protagonist who started the series and was featured in the most books. The ending is inspiring and filled with hope, making the journey through the dark dystopian world fully worth it. Some of the other main characters are unfortunately neglected, but aside from that, it’s a good ending to the series.

Dystopian novels can be perfect for exploring hard questions, and the Shadow Children series refreshingly examines them in a way that is respectful of faith and affirming of strong moral values, while not giving easy answers. In some cases, it doesn’t give an answer at all, simply asking readers to ponder it for themselves. Those who want thought-provoking dystopian novels that aren’t as dreary as many of their brethren will find much to like here.

Content Overview: The intensity of the dystopian setting might be too much for some younger readers, but it’s much milder than the Hunger Games trilogy, with not much violence and only one instance of profanity.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Eyes Unclouded by Hate: A Movie Review of Princess Mononoke

The Story: After being cursed while doing a good deed, a young warrior in a magical ancient Japan travels to a faraway land to search for a way to cure the curse. Once there, he finds himself in the middle of a war where neither side is truly evil, and seeks to bring peace to all involved, even if it costs his life.

My Thoughts: Princess Mononoke is one of the top contenders for the title of most beautifully-animated film of all time (look below for a few screenshots). It is just as remarkable for its direction and storytelling, which I believe place it in the five best movies ever made, and it is also my favorite film from legendary animator Hayao Miyazaki. It’s even better than his earlier masterpieces, Castle in the Sky and Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind. The story is superficially a traditional epic fantasy tale involving a quest, but the attention to detail, numerous fascinating characters, and moral clarity make it a one-of-a-kind speculative adventure.

Even set in a pagan culture, the hero’s dedication to seeing with eyes unclouded by hate provides one of the best illustrations I’ve ever seen of the Bible’s teaching that we should fight for what’s right in a loving, impartial way. He’s a skilled warrior who doesn’t hesitate to kill when necessary, yet he does all he can to bring peace in every situation. How this theme is woven naturally into the story is well worth studying for storytellers who want to create powerful tales. And anyone who appreciates the art of cinema, even those who don’t usually watch animated films, should see this movie.

Content Overview: A small amount of foul language and mild innuendo. Despite the PG-13 rating, there’s a lot of intense violence, and had this been a live-action film, it probably would have been rated R for violence.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Chasing Cheetahs

My newest article, "Chasing Cheetahs," was just released in TRC magazine.

With how difficult it is to be a good Christian, it’s no wonder that the Bible compares our life to a race (1 Corinthians 9:24). Hardships and temptations come at us often, sometimes due to our fallen world and sometimes sent by the devil. Living like Christ may seem as impossible as winning a race against cheetahs... Read more 

Thursday, January 21, 2016

The 10 Best Quotes About Art from Kuyper’s Wisdom & Wonder

Wisdom & Wonder by Abraham Kuyper is a fascinating book about how science and art fit into a Christian worldview. The half of the book that focuses on art is my favorite part. It is worth reading for anyone interested in art, whether in general, or in specific art forms such as painting, film, music, and literature. I especially recommend it to everyone who wants to create art.

Although I don’t necessarily agree with everything Wisdom & Wonder says, or with everything in the following quotes, Kuyper’s ideas about art are certainly thought-provoking. Because the book contains so many great quotes, it was difficult to pick only ten. I eventually narrowed the list down to these. The quotes are in the order they appear in the book.

1. “The motive of art comes to us not from what exists, but from the notion that there is something higher, something nobler, something richer, and that what exists corresponds only partially to all of this.”

2. “Naturally, if, as spiritualism claims, no observable world will exist in eternity, then indeed art belongs to the lower matters. If, contrary to this, you confess with Scripture and on the basis of Scripture that there will be a new Jerusalem, located on a new earth, under a new heaven, then art is a preliminary scintillation already in this earthly life of what is coming.”

3. “God creates history, while people create an epic or a drama, drawn either from God’s history or from unreality and pure fiction. Thus, in all art we find an imitation of the creating ability of God. His universe is replicated in our palaces and cathedrals; his organic creation is imitated in our sculpturing; his landscapes of life in nature and among people are portrayed in our artistic painting on a canvas; what God created and sustains within the human heart sounds forth in our music; and what God created through his word finds expression in our poetry.”

4. “Even as we can certainly make a music box, wind it up, and let it play, we are also impotent when it comes to creating one tiny nightingale or one meadow lark. Similarly, in the entire field of art we can get as far as imitating God’s creations without ever getting beyond the imitating. God alone remains the Original, the only Real Creator, for he alone is the powerful and wise Artist.”

5. “God himself inspires those who have breathtaking genius in the field of art. He makes them to see a beauty and to experience in their spirit something far beyond what the world can offer, something that, once it moves from their imagination to outward expression, enriches the world, delights those initiated into its meaning, and contributes to our human living something we never would have enjoyed were it not for this artistic capacity.”

6. “There is a multitude that has broken with everything lofty and that cares no longer for either religion or art. There is another multitude that has completely abandoned religion and now seeks the ideal in art, but does not seek art’s ideal in the lofty and dignified, but in the stimulating, the sensual, and the pleasurable, which calls for satisfaction from below. The priest of art must stand free, lofty, and independent over against all of that. His is not the calling to feed this confused appetite, but to lead it back to the pathway of genuine beauty.”

7. “No serious person will disagree that in its deformation and due to the sin of its practitioners, all too often art defies the moral ideal. One really need not be a Christian in order to acknowledge that fact.”

8. “Art cannot be excused from following God’s law, and art disgraces itself by seeking that freedom. Anything that cannot be put into an image or onto a canvas without demanding the sacrifice of modesty or injuring shame must simply be eschewed.”

9. “The relationship between our personal spiritual life and our artistic life is a matter of utmost importance.”

10. “The chief harm that art can cause, and does so repeatedly, is the wrong direction in which it subtly drives our spirit. The worship and idolizing of art is limited to a few fanatics, to a few art zealots. By contrast, the wrong attitude that art can arouse subtly affects the broad masses and causes destruction among the multitudes. This is to be explained by the fact that art is designed to be an instrument for making access for the Spirit of the Lord, for inspiring the holy and high ideal, and thereby for glorifying God the Creator in all art. Despite this intention, art can become alternately an instrument for crowning the spirit dwelling in the depths as master, and thereby turn its artistic products against the Spirit of God.”

Have you read Wisdom & Wonder? What are your favorite quotes about art?