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My Favorite Films of 2012 Part One: 36-40

Published December 31, 2012 by allanmelody

My Favorite Films Of 2012

 

      This is a multipart column I am really looking forward to. I am going to get a chance to honor my favorite films of 2012. Since this blog is new and I didn’t get to review any of these films before, this year’s list will probably be a little longer than future years will be. The list will be in eight parts counting down to my favorite film of the year which will be in the final column. To judge what I really consider my favorite films I used a simple criteria. They were films that I knew I would want to revisit again and again and films that already are or will be part of my movie collection. In other words, movies that I’m going to spend my hard-earned money on. I will say that this is been the strongest year in quite some time as far as a number of films that I am truly passionate about. All in all, I would say the top 20 on this list are outright classics for me while many of the others could prove to be as well after multiple viewings.

      To see where each of the films stood in relation to other critics and two other fans, I’m going to include their rankings on the Rotten Tomatoes and Internet Movie Database websites. That will be followed up by my thoughts on the film and a favorite performance or moment which I will try to keep spoiler free.

40-Pirates: Band of Misfits-Not nearly the masterpieces that the earlier works of Aardman Animation (specifically Chicken Run and Wallace and Gromit) were but even second tier work from this remarkable studio is worth multiple viewings. In under 90 minutes, the film offers a ton of great sight gags, typical dry British humor, and some wonderfully politically incorrect moments. The top one for me was seeing the elephant man as the butt of the joke; something that the typical animated family film would never dare to do. There is little story here, but the abundance of eye candy and activity going on in all corners of the screen largely makes up for the lack of it. An excellent voice cast rounds off the experience.

Rotten Tomatoes: 86% (119-19)

IMDB: 6.7

39-Bernie-I went into this movie knowing nothing except that it was a Richard Linklater directed film starring Jack Black. My total ignorance of the subject matter (which is very rare for me) allowed me to be surprised again and again by developments all the way through to the end credits. Therefore, I’m going to give next to nothing away here. I’ll just say that it is a consistently offbeat, quirky comedy that deftly blends the line between fiction film and documentary filmmaking. Jack Black gives a complex, amusing performance as a small-town mortician, Shirley McClain is wonderful as the crotchety old woman the town can’t stand who befriends him, and Matthew McConnaughy has never been funnier than he is here as a self promoting D.A.. Best of all, however, are the many small roles portraying the people of this small town in Texas. A marvelous, entertaining surprise of a film.

Rotten Tomatoes: 92% (110-10)

IMDB: 6.7

38-The Raven- I enjoyed this critical and commercial flop as a guilty pleasure. I am someone who loves the writings of Edgar Allen Poe and while this film doesn’t come close to doing them justice, it does pay respect to some of the author’s greatest works. John Cusack is quite good as Poe, portraying him as a mixture of a misanthrope and romantic hero wrapped up in one. The killer is inspired by Poe’s novels so his grisly murders and methods are entirely appropriate. Although the finale is somewhat uninspired, the journey to get there is worthwhile. At the very least, if this film gets a few people to discover one of the great short story writers, that is a good thing.

Rotten Tomatoes: 22% (27-97)

IMDB: 6.4

 

37-The Woman in Black- A good old-fashioned ghost story anchored by a strong lead performance from Daniel Radcliffe of Harry Potter fame. Indeed, Radcliffe’s contribution is vital as the entire middle section of the film features him alone in an old house. It’s actually a bit reminiscent of Tom Hanks in Castaway and Will Smith in I Legend in the sense that it’s up to him to carry all the action by himself for long periods of time. The back story of the ghost is serviceable if unremarkable. The real strength (and always a key to any ghost story) of the movie is the sense of atmosphere provided by a disturbed town, a creepy house, and a misty swamp. They provide a great backdrop for all the real and imagined scares in the film. There are several jump out of your seat moments, and Radcliffe’s character and his back story provide some heart to the horror. It also has one of the best openings of the year, an unsettling triple suicide.

Rotten Tomatoes: 65% (112-60)

IMDB: 6.5

36-The Secret World of Arrietty-  Another work of art from the Walt Disney of Japanese animation Hiyao Miyazaki. While Miyazaki did not direct this film, he adapted the screenplay and his fingerprints can be felt all over it. All his trademarks are here including a complex and compelling heroine, a love and respect of nature, and an attention to every detail that suits the story perfectly. The movie is based on the series of books called The Borrowers about a species of miniature people who live in houses unseen by humans. Amongst the film’s many triumphs is successfully capturing the feeling of wonder that a young boy would experience upon the discovery of something so magical.  The young boy also has a tragic back story which adds even more layers to the whole proceeding. The author of the original series, Mary Norton, reveled in attention to detail in every aspect of her creation’s lives. I don’t think she could have asked for a film version that would respect that vision any more closely. Every frame is a work of art and the home of the borrowers is filled with little touches that will require multiple viewings to take in. My favorite Miyazaki film since Spirited Away.

Rotten Tomatoes: 94% (109-7)

IMDB: 7.6

Jordan’s Quest Chapter Three: The Quest

Published December 30, 2012 by allanmelody

Chapter Three

The Quest

 

When Jordan entered, he was instantly captivated by the beauty of the immense throne room. It was like something out of a dream.

Beautiful tapestries of intricate detail adorned the walls. Each individual work told a story, and they were remarkable, unforgettable tales. Knights and wizards were woven into the fabric so deftly that Jordan felt he knew them. They told their stories more vividly than anything he’d ever seen.

Trophies of past conquests filled the room. Chest of gold as high as a tall man’s waist. A huge ivory horn that could only have belonged to a giant. Marble statues of famous kings and knights. The head of a magnificent dragon whose eyes still seemed to dance with life.

The room was splendid!

King Ronald was not. He would’ve been a disappointment anywhere, but among the treasures of this room he was more of a blot than a man.

Ronald was terribly enormous, and the reason was apparent. He was a glutton. In the time it took Jordan to walk up to the throne, King Ronald devoured two chicken legs and half a bottle of wine.

Jordan thought of the story he had learned the academy about King Ronald walking a tight rope 300 feet off the ground in a hurricane to save an orphaned baby. It took all his self-control not to burst out laughing.

Ronald sat on an ornate throne and was dressed in flowing, fashionable robes which only served to make him more ridiculous. He looked like a court jester playing at being king.

Jordan himself was no fool. The King was a disgrace, but he never gave any indication of it. Instead, he smiled as pleasantly as he could and gave a sweeping bow.

“Well done, boy,” croaked King Ronald.

The King was eating as he talked, and bits of food sprayed out of his mouth during the whole conversation. Luckily, Jordan was a nimble lad and able to dodge the most dangerous of the objects that came hurtling at him.

“You’re quite a pleasant surprise,” continued the King. “My advisers told me several years ago you were a mouthy maggot, a grasping grub, and a worthless worm all rolled up into one, but I can see you’ve straightened up considerably since then. It just shows the positive effect a role model like myself can have on the young. I can turn worms into knights. Now, Jessup…”

“That’s Jordan, your Majesty.”

“Of course it is,” blustered the King. “That’s what I said. Now, Jeremiah, you know the purpose of this meeting. I’ve got a quest for you to perform, and if you succeed, you’ll become Sir Jedediah. If you fail, you’ll become fertilizer.”

“Yes,” replied Jordan.

“But it’s more than that,” bellowed the King. “This is a chance for you to get to meet me, your noble king, personally. I know you already worship me and who could blame you. Now you have a chance to actually talk to me and benefit from my fatherly advice and experience. I care about what happens to you Jonathan. I hope you know that.”

“Of course I do,” said Jordan while dodging a deadly butter covered kernel of corn. “And let me just say that there’s a great deal more to you than I ever expected.”

“Very good,” beamed the King. “I think it’s about time we get down to business.”

“I’m trembling at the thought of your melodious voice spraying the story upon me,” replied an increasingly soggy Jordan.

‘Good show,” sprayed the King while slurping a greenish dessert. “The task at hand is a very difficult one. There’s no way around it, and it simply must be that way. You were born to two stupid worms, and that makes you a contemptible worm yourself. Now don’t get me wrong. Worms are good to sacrifice to the gods and test swords on and that sort of thing. However, you’re basically filthy things that are best trampled upon. Only one worm in a million gets to leave that life and become a knight. You are that worm, and everything you have is due to me. Now you must return the favor by performing a particularly loathsome task. You must go to Malevolent Manor and destroy the evil wizard Shudder who lives there.”

Jordan turned green. Then blue. Then purple. He creaked. He cracked. He choked. He chattered. He sighed. He sobbed. He groaned. He gurgled.

Who was Shudder? Only the most dreaded and feared wizard in the entire world.

“I see you’ve heard of him,” said King Ronald.

“Of course I’ve heard of him, you blithering buffoon,” explained Jordan. “If you think I’m going after him, you’re loonier than you look.”

“Once a worm, always a worm,” sighed King Ronald. “I’ll ignore your little outburst this once, but understand this. You either go on this quest or get squashed. I will personally torture you, cook you, and feed you to my royal pigs. I’m might even try a couple of your toes as a side dish. You understand?”

“Yes,” said Jordan whose skin had turned to a much healthier yellow shade.

“Very good,” replied the King. He was actually feeling quite pleased at causing so much terror. “Since you will be going, I’ll gladly give some information about Shudder.”

“I can hardly wait,” said Jordan.

“Very sensible,” replied the King. “Shudder is the latest in a long line of wizards that have occupied Malevolent Manor, and he appears to be the worst of a bad lot. Ever since he took up residence at the manor, the whole area around it has become a disaster area. All the humans, birds, and animals that lived there have left. Even the insects have flown the coop.”

“So nothing lives there except for this wizard?”

“Nothing but mutant vampire bats and goblins,” replied Ronald. “They’re the only ones who would want to stay after what’s been done to the place. There’s a constant and never-ending thunderstorm over the whole area. Not a ray of sunshine gets through. Terrible moans and groans come incessantly from the manor house. It makes the whole place hard to miss. You’ll find it with ease.”

“That’s comforting,” said Jordan dryly. “Has anyone tried to defeat Shudder before this?”

“I sent three of my best and bravest knights after him. The first one, Sir Hempshaw, went eight years ago and I haven’t heard a thing from him since.

“What happened to the second one, Sir Pigeonhole, makes an interesting tale. He had been been missing for three years when we got a knock on the castle gates one morning. All we found outside was a small baby in a cradle. There was a note attached which said, ‘I am returning Sir Pigeonhole to you. Please let him return in 20 years for another try.’ Sir Pigeonhole’s wife and children were quite upset by the whole affair.”

“I can imagine,” said Jordan.

“It worked out all right. He’s really a cute little baby, and his kids love changing and feeding him. He’s teething now but he’ll be okay.

“The third knight,” he continued, “was my bravest, Sir Helium. He destroyed more evil creatures than anyone I’ve ever known, except myself. I sent him off two years ago, and I didn’t hear anything until last week. It appears that he’s gone mad. All he does is ride around Malevolent Manor on his horse screaming. His hair has gone from jet black to pure white. I can only assume that Shudder did something unspeakable to put him in a state like that. Can’t help admiring the fellow.”

“He sounds worse than you,” said Jordan.

“Don’t count on it, blockhead.”

“What does this wizard look like?”

“Nobody knows. To my knowledge, no one has ever gotten inside Malevolent Manor to see him. That is, except for Sir Pigeonhole, and he won’t be able to tell us about it for a couple of years. There have been a few rumors, and they say he’s ugly as sin.”

“I’m sure he can’t begin to compete with your looks, your Majesty,” said Jordan

“Well, of course not,” blustered Ronald. “No one can compete with me. I don’t expect that, but this fellow has the most atrociously, horrifical, terroranical appearance in the world. Worse, he’s completely cracked.”

“What?” asked Jordan.

“Cracked as a cuckoo. Warped as a warthog. Bent as a baboon. He’s nuts. He’s ugly and crazy, and there’s no worse combination.”

“No doubt about that, your Majesty,” replied Jordan.

“You must go and destroy him.”

“Are you sure you don’t want to go? You two seem to have so much in common.”

“I’ll ignore that,” said the King. “You will go and vanquish him.”

“But how?”

“How should I know? You’re the one with all the training, not me. I’ve fed you for four years. I’ve got you supplies, food, and a splendid suit of armor. I’ve even used my artistic talents to draw you a map. Take a look.”

Jordan glanced at the map. It wasn’t much to see. It looked like it had been created by a two-year-old. A particularly untalented two-year-old.

“Impressive, isn’t it,” said Ronald.

“You’re as good an artist as you are a king,” replied Jordan.

“Well spoken! Before you go, I have one last word of advice. Beware of the people of Heathvale! They’re bloodthirsty, vicious cannibals and we’ll be going to war again with them soon. They may look harmless, but it’s all a disguise. They’ll carve you up and guzzle you down before you know it. If you run into any of them, get away as fast as you can.”

Jordan didn’t need this advice. Both his parents and teachers had warned him about the horrid residents of Heathvale. It was the one thing he was truly afraid of.

“I think that covers everything,” said the king. “I wish you luck, my dear Jason. You’re like a son to me and all that sort of thing. Is there anything else I left out?”

“I don’t think so.”

“Then get going, you clod!”

Most Disappointing Films of 2012

Published December 28, 2012 by allanmelody

Most Disappointing Films of 2012

As you’ve undoubtedly noticed, I try to keep most of the content on this blog positive as it is a celebration of writing and movies. However, the end of the year is always an appropriate time to look back not only on the things that I loved but also the things I didn’t. This column is primarily about the movies I most regret seeing and time I’ll never get back.

      While I used to see hundreds of movies in theaters a year, I’ve cut back a lot in recent years by trying to pick out movies that I at least thought I would have an interest in. Even so, I saw about 150 films in theaters or on video on demand this year. Every film on this list was one that I thought I could potentially like or possibly love. It didn’t work out that way and this is my revenge.

      The movies on this list were not the worst of the year. There are just so many movies (take any Gerard Butler comedy for example) where one should expect little or nothing for their money. The tragedy about the movies on my list was the potential that I thought they had. The final film, in fact, was a movie that had menaced strong elements going for it, but was nonetheless the biggest disappointment of the year for me.

      As always, I’ll be including the rotten tomatoes and IMDB rankings of the films to show where my opinions stand in the scheme of things.

5-VHS-VHS was a horror anthology that got a limited release and also played on video on demand. It is a found footage film where a group of creeps who rob houses break into a home with the assignment of stealing a videotape. They stumble upon a dead man and tons of videos which they start to watch. The videos contain stories of vampires, psychopaths, aliens, and devil worshipers among other things. I use the word “stories” loosely as there is very little plot in any of the segments. Out of the five videos, only one about a man and woman communicating over the Internet kept me the least bit interested. Far worse was the framing device of the robbers which was supposed to tie the anthology together. Forgetting that the characters are utter idiots, the events that are happening in the house become more and more senseless, pointless, and worthless culminating in an ending which contains no logic whatsoever.

      I’m a fan of both found footage films and horror anthologies. VHS failed on both counts. The filmmaking is amateurish, the acting is second rate, the dialogue is infantile, and like most films with the reputation of having real shocks in them, I found it incredibly boring. And even for a found footage film where the video is purposely degraded, I found the shoddy editing and camera work to be offputting and annoying.

      VHS had its share of fans and detractors. I read some reviews praising it as a horror classic and others slamming it on all levels. Amazingly, perhaps because of its very low budget, a sequel is already in the works. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice…

Rotten Tomatoes: 52%-34-32

IMDB: 5.9

4-Wrath of the Titans-The remake of Clash of the Titan’s in 2010 was pretty terrible, but this sequel makes it look like the Lord of the Rings of fantasy films.

      When the sequel was initially announced, the producer was quoted as saying he found the first film disappointing and was determined to do a lot better the second time around

      A quick tip: If improving the film is your intention, don’t replace a half decent director (Louis Letterier) with Jonathan Liebesman, one of the worst hacks in the business.

      I’m very forgiving of fantasy films (perhaps too forgiving) and if one contains even a few half decent scenes, I’ll usually end up buying it. Wrath doesn’t come close to meeting the bar on even those low criteria. The group of monsters they assembled to combat Perseus are poorly conceived, boring creations, the action is hard to follow due to poor, lazy editing, and Sam Worthington (as an actor and as the character) seems as bored and depressed by all the proceedings as I was. In Wrath of the Titans, gods may die, but at least it is mercifully quick. In watching this mess, I did not feel as lucky as them. Please don’t try to make a trilogy out of this.

Rotten Tomatoes: 26% 42-122

IMDB: 5.8

3-Silent House-This is a gimmick film from the directorial team of Chris Kentis and Laura Lau that seems to make these type of films their specialty. A few years back they made Open Water, a horror film that takes place almost entirely out in the middle of the ocean. The gimmick of Silent House is to film the whole movie as one long take without any editing cuts. In a way, these two films are reminiscent of things that Alfred Hitchcock tried with much more success. He made the film Lifeboat entirely out on the ocean with just a single set, and made the film Rope as one long continuous take. Unfortunately, this duo doesn’t have a fraction of Hitchcock’s talents to work with.

      I’m a fan of long tracking shots. I also was intrigued by lead actress Elizabeth Olsen who was brilliant last year in Martha Marcy May Marlene. The premise of the film is that she is alone and trapped in an isolated house with her father when a stalker breaks in and starts to terrorize them. As the plot unfolds, we can start to tell that the events unfolding are not precisely what they seem. It leads to a major twist that many viewers including myself could probably see a mile away. Once I figured out what was going to happen, I lost all interest in the storyline and kept looking at my watch. The great extended shots I love serve a purpose. I’ll actually be doing some future columns on some of my favorites. But when the purpose is only to show off technical prowess it has the effect of turning off most of its audience. It can also give a very static feel to a film. Even Hitchcock’s experimental Rope suffered a bit from this malady. It’s an outright fatal disease in Silent House. The movie was only about 80 minutes but it felt like 800.

Rotten Tomatoes: 41% 51-73

IMDB: 5.2

2-Battleship-This was the big budget box office dud of the year. Director Peter Berg actually succeeds at out Michael-baying Michael Bay. As I consider Michael Bay the antichrist of film directors, that is not a compliment. How is it like a Michael Bay film? First, there is not one character that acts like a real human being. Second, the dialogue is banal and unreal. Third, it is filmmaking that plays to the lowest common denominator and has no respect for any audience member who expects an iota of creativity. Fourth, there is no skill in the action scenes, so they are delivered with over-editing so that no one can really see where the combatants are in them. Fifth, to hide all this they throw on a layer of false patriotism and false heroism. In this case, it takes the form of some old army veterans. Towards the end of the film, when most of the Navy and Armed Forces have been wiped out by super-powerful aliens, long retired veterans are brought in to save the day. I must be honest. It was at this point in the film with probably about a half hour left that I gave up and walked out. Still, I think I can pretty much guess what happened. The geriatric veterans came in and saved the world and the movie ended with a patriotic ceremony to honor them and a few other survivors. Feel free to tell me how close I was if there’s anyone out there who did see how it all turned out. I never bothered to find out.

Rotten Tomatoes: 33% 66-135

IMDB: 6.0

1-The Master-This film was far superior to any of the other movies in this column but it was still my single biggest disappointment of the year. It was made by Paul Thomas Anderson, a director of two of my all time favorite films, Magnolia and There Will be Blood. Perhaps I was guilty of going in with the wrong expectations. I had heard that the film was a look at religions and cults, and was going to be about the relationship of a charismatic religious leader and a follower who becomes disillusioned with the cause. It’s a topic Anderson more than touched on in There Will be Blood, and I thought his attacks on religion through the character of the preacher played by Paul Dano were quite thought-provoking.

      Instead, while those themes were present, the movie seemed more interested in being a character study of a troubled young man played by Joaquin Phoenix. We follow him as he stumbles from one job to another after World War II until he accidentally meets the head of a religious group played by Philip Seymour Hoffman.

      My problems were twofold. First, while Hoffman’s performance is fine, the character of the cult leader is rather dull and uninspiring. In fact, it’s hard to believe that he was supposed to be loosely based on L Ron Hubbard, the Scientologist founder. Hubbard’s views may be ridiculous, but they have been successful. Hoffman often comes off as a complete failure and idiot who can’t even convert his own son to his views. The bigger problem is Phoenix’s character. In other films, Anderson is masterful at presenting initially unsympathetic characters and then slowly revealing their layers. For me, this never came about here. I didn’t relate to Phoenix’s character at all, didn’t like him, and my feelings didn’t change throughout the film. Also, while he does join the cult and often defends it, he never seems anything close to a true believer. Therefore, the film never gives the dynamic of what draws people into a cult and keeps them so attached to it. Again, I might be guilty of expecting a different movie, but it doesn’t change the fact that the one I got left me cold.

      I never would’ve guessed that a film called Sound of My Voice which disappeared from theaters in a week would have given me so much more satisfaction on the same subject. That film presents a far more charismatic and persuasive cult leader. It will appear in my favorite films of the yearcolumn where I will discuss it further.

      I’m such a fan of Paul Thomas Anderson’s work that I might be willing to try this film again somewhere down the line. My initial reaction to Magnolia was not all positive, but it really stayed in my head for days after I saw it. The Master has not had the same effect and I feel in no rush to revisit it at the moment. There is a great deal of artistry here, but for me there was little purpose. That makes it number one on my disappointment list.

      The marks below will show that I am in the minority on this one. Like I always say, I always envy the people who see qualities in the film I don’t because embracing them is always my goal.

Rotten Tomatoes: 85% 176-30

IMDB: 7.9

Jordan’s Quest Chapter Two: Jordan Caulkins

Published December 22, 2012 by allanmelody

Chapter Two

Jordan Caulkins

 

Jordan Caulkins didn’t look much like a hero. He was a tall, thin, scraggly 15-year-old kid with freckles. Cruel classmates might describe him as gangly and uncoordinated, but he was really just a little thin and not too awkward. He had light sandy hair which he constantly brushed away from his dark brown eyes.

Jordan Caulkins didn’t much want to be a hero. No one ever asked if he wanted to be a knight. He had been perfectly content as the son of a poor farmer and his wife. The job of keeping up the farm of his father had been long and hard, but he loved working the land and finding new ways to grow things. He also enjoyed school and was a natural reader and storyteller.

Unfortunately, fate drew Jordan a cruel blow. Just after his 11th birthday his name was picked in King Ronald’s annual lottery, and he was invited to become a knight.

This was really no invitation. You had to go!

It would be wonderfully touching and sentimental to report that Jordan’s parents were remarkable caring people who were hurt dreadfully when he was tragically torn from their arms. If this were a play, I’d be telling about a grand speech Jordan’s father made about love and family in a desperate attempt to keep his son.

But this was real life and it wasn’t the case.

“You won’t make much of a knight, I’ll wager,” was the extent of Mr. Caulkins final speech.

“Don’t make a glutton and slob of yourself,” was Mrs. Caulkin’s last bit of motherly wisdom.

The Caulkins weren’t bad people and they were sad to see their son go. However, they quite happily accepted the annual allowance they received for having a child training as a knight. As they slurped down delicious dinners each night, losing a son seemed like a small price to pay!

Besides, they reasoned, Jordan wasn’t going to the dungeon. He was going to be knighted. Surely he was better off as a knight than as a lowly, starving farmer.

Jordan wasn’t so sure. To go from the poor humble life of a farm boy to the glamorous world of a knight in training in one day was a major adjustment.

There’s no denying that Jordan was taken with some parts of his new life. Eating huge meals of roast pigs and potatoes was a vast improvement on sour mash and oats. Everything from his bed to his clothes was ten times more luxurious than what he used to.

School didn’t go as well. This was partially Jordan’s fault. He’d always been intelligent and was never afraid to speak his mind. He also possessed a wicked sense of humor and a rebellious streak. These qualities were a recipe for disaster at the Academy of Knights.

Jordan’s troubles began on his very first day, when a guest knight was lecturing about his adventures. Midway through the speech, Jordan began laughing and guffawing uncontrollably.

“What’s so funny?” demanded the teacher. “How dare you interrupt the great Sir Hardwig in the midst of his exploits?”

“I’m sorry,” replied Jordan. “It’s just that he so horribly out of shape. I was trying to picture him battling a centaur on his horse and I… I…I…”  Jordan began giggling again.

“Wh…Wh…Wh.. What did that impudent imp say,” stammered Sir Hardwig.

“I apologize heartily,” said the professor. “He’s an ignorant peasant who just joined the school. I assure you, he will be educated.”

“I suggest you beat his education into him,” huffed Hardwig. “It’s the only thing that works with that sort.”

Incidents like these were common over the next six months. Jordan was merciless to the knights and teachers who lectured to his class. He caught them in lies, questioned their bravery and ethics, and laughed openly at their stupidity. He was a one-man reign of terror. He was wonderful.

It wasn’t long before most knights would flee the Academy rather than risk a discussion with Jordan.

The Academy was as ruthless with Jordan as he was with the knights. They seemed determined to take Sir Hardwig’s advice and beat his education into him. He was punished constantly. The only reason he wasn’t expelled was that no student had ever failed to graduate before, and no one wanted to break the great tradition.

Sadly, after about a year of constant floggings, punishments, and lectures, even Jordan’s resistance wore down. He learned that it was better to keep his opinions and his sharp tongue to himself.

Strangely, Jordan even began to enjoy the details the knights told about their adventures. They began to seem like brave and daring warriors instead of buffoons. He admired King Ronald most of all. Although he had never seen him in person, two hours a day were devoted to his adventures and they were magnificent.

Let me ask you not to judge Jordan too harshly for his change of heart. After all, if you were told to eat red ants every day, were told how delicious they were, and were beaten every time you spit them out, you’d soon convince yourself that those ants were tastier than ice cream. It was the same way with Jordan.

So Jordan began to respect the knights and even resigned himself to the fact that he would be one someday.

“I’m ill-suited to it,” he thought. “I’m skinny and the idea of bludgeoning dragons makes me ill, but I’ll do it. If my king wants a knight, I’ll obey.”

Despite his acceptance of knighthood, Jordan was always dreadfully homesick. Not so much for his parents as for the simple farm and his collection of books. No farming or reading was permitted in the castle. Jordan felt lost without his two real loves.

This is not to say that all the fire and will had gone out of him. He just turned his gifts upon new and less dangerous adversaries.

Most of these adversaries were fellow schoolmates, and they were a doltish crew. For the most part, they were big, beefy, overfed, and spoiled. They were also exceptionally snobbish, and felt the Jordan and a few other boys picked to be knights by lottery were dirt beneath their feet.

Most of the boys were just cold and indifferent, but a few were downright vicious bullies. They pushed Jordan down flights of stairs and gave him terrible hidings. Jordan wasn’t big or strong enough to fight them, but he got revenge by making fools of them. He rigged of up pails of cranberry sauce to fall on their heads. He put toads and snakes in their beds when they were asleep. Before long, Jordan became something of a hero to the other picked upon knights.

Of all these bullies, the worst by far was Hadley Sheetrock. His single greatest pleasure was humiliating and terrifying the younger kids.

He considered them his slaves and made them call him sir. They were forced to cook his meals and do all his work for him. If they made any mistakes, he locked them up in a small closet for hours and hours.

Jordan was one of those poor slaves, and Hadley Sheetrock hated him above all others. Although Jordan was as respectful to him as the rest, Hadley always felt that he was being laughed at behind his back.

“The little rotter,” Hadley would say. “I’ve got more than enough reasons for hittin’ the likes of ‘im. He thinks he so smart. Better ‘n me. Sayin’ one thing when he’s really incineratin’ something else. Let him try one of his rotten tricks on me. I’ll get ‘im good.”

If anyone had pulled a trick on him, Hadley would surely have blamed Jordan and killed them. But for more than two years, he was left untouched by all the practical jokes that went on.

Then came the biggest day of young Hadley Sheetrock’s life. He was to go meet King Ronald face-to-face and be assigned a dangerous quest to go on. It was the most exciting and proudest moment for every one of King Ronald knights.

Sheetrock woke up that morning in a transport of joy. He spent the night dreaming about the compliments King Ronald would shower on him.

His smile of triumph quickly turned to puzzlement. He felt sticky and tickly. He looked down. He was covered with feathers! Somehow all his clothes had been taken off and replaced with feathers. Worse, they’d been stuck to him. They wouldn’t come off.

Sheetrock got up and looked in the mirror. He screamed. All his hair had been shaved off. He was completely bald.

Sheetrock looked at the clothes he had left out for the occasion. He started cursing. Everything that he owned had been dyed pink. And he had to see the King in 5 minutes.

“I’ll kill him,” said Sheetrock as he pulled his pink outfit on over his pants. “Quest or no quest, he’s dead as soon as I’m through speaking to the king.”

I’m sure he meant it.

But it didn’t matter. Sheetrock went in for his 10 minute audience with the king and was never seen or heard from again.

King Ronald never did like pink!

So Jordan was able to cope quite well with most of the difficulties in his way. After the Sheetrock incident, he was pretty much left alone by the other bullies. He even performed well at the Knight Academy.

However, nearly four years ago after being plucked from his old life, Jordan was worried. He had just turned 15, and it was his turn to meet King Ronald and be assigned to a quest.

This meeting was one of King Ronald’s favorite traditions. Student knights were never allowed so much as a glimpse of him before the meeting. This served to make the young men terrified as well as thrilled on their big day, and that suited Ronald just fine. They would meet him alone in his biggest throne room, and he would assign them their quest. If they performed successfully, they returned as full-fledged knights. If they failed…

Jordan, normally no coward, shook as he walked toward the throne room to meet King Ronald. He was finally to be assigned his quest. Playing a knight was one thing, but going out and actually being one was something entirely different.

Jordan hoped he wouldn’t be asked to destroy anything. He didn’t think he could handle that.

Worst than the quest was the idea of meeting King Ronald face-to-face. Jordan was sure that this great warrior would see how insignificant he was and cast him out. The meeting was sure to be a disaster.

Jordan knocked on the massive throne room door.

“Come in,” said a grainy voice.

Answer to Trivia Question: A True Story

Published December 20, 2012 by allanmelody

This is a true story. There was a director who for years had a dream project. He wanted to make a film based on the book Rocket Boys. He couldn’t get it made. However, after years of making hit films including Honey I Shrunk the Kids, The Rocketeer, and Jumanji, the studio finally relented and gave him the okay. There was one catch. They hated the name Rocket Boys and they told him he could not use it as the title of his film. The director was unhappy with this decision as he felt Rocket Boys was the perfect title to express what the film was about. He decided to go home and puzzle out a way to get the title into the movie somehow. He took the letters of the title, scrambled them around and created a new title that was an anagram of Rocket Boys. When he brought it back to the studio, the executives loved the new title and didn’t catch onto the trick. This new title was actually used for the 1999 film which was a popular and critical success. What is the name of the actual movie?

The name of the movie was October Sky starring Jake Gyllenhall and was about four boys from a poor coal mining town who got interested in rockets and won the national science fair. As this brief description shows, Rocket Boys would have been a perfectly appropriate title. The only reference to the new title in the film is that it was October when the boys see Sputnik pass above their heads in the sky, an event which inspired them to start making rockets.

Movie Trivia Question: A True Story

Published December 19, 2012 by allanmelody

This is a true story. There was a director who for years had a dream project. He wanted to make a film based on the book Rocket Boys. He couldn’t get it made. However, after years of making hit films including Honey I Shrunk the Kids, The Rocketeer, and Jumanji, the studio finally relented and gave him the okay. There was one catch. They hated the name Rocket Boys and they told him he could not use it as the title of his film. The director was unhappy with this decision as he felt Rocket Boys was the perfect title to express what the film was about. He decided to go home and puzzle out a way to get the title into the movie somehow. He took the letters of the title, scrambled them around and created a new title that was an anagram of Rocket Boys. When he brought it back to the studio, the executives loved the new title and didn’t catch onto the trick. This new title was actually used for the 1999 film which was a popular and critical success. What is the name of the actual movie?

Jordan’s Quest Chapter One: King Ronald’s Knights

Published December 15, 2012 by allanmelody

Chapter One

King Ronald’s Knights

Once upon a time there was a kingdom called Lutevale. This land was teeming with knights who performed feats in heroics we only read about today. They were constantly off on fantastic quests; such as slaying ferocious dragons and rescuing fair damsels from the clutches of evil enchanters.

Lutevale was a wonderful place to be a knight because of its king who was named Ronald. I’ll let you judge for yourselves whether he was a good and just king, but it’s beyond all argument that he adored his knights.

He loved to see them go off on quests. He loved to send huge armies of them out to battle his enemies in the land of Heathvale which he detested. He swelled with pride whenever they bought home fair maidens. He salivated with happiness whenever they brought home gold and plunder from their wars and expeditions.

King Ronald was crazy about knights. He insisted on being surrounded by them, which is why he had no less than 5000 knights living in his castle with him!

Now, 5000 is quite a large number, and it must be admitted that maintaining and keeping 5000 knights presented Ronald with a couple of problems. First, he had the problem of maintaining them. This is something most people don’t think about, but it was a problem that faced all kings. After all, it is very expensive to feed, clothe, train, and shelter 5000 knights. Even the gold the knights themselves brought in couldn’t pay for half of it.

However, no one could call King Ronald a miser. He never once begrudged his knights a single desire, and no one ever heard him utter a word of complaint about the cost.

Why is this, you ask. Was King Ronald a saint? Did he love his knights that much?

Perhaps he did. But it is also possible that he was so easy-going because of the clever little system he devised. Every time the knights needed more money, he’d simply raise taxes on the peasants.

“My peasants are miserable worms,” he’d often say with a jolly chuckle. “I love them, of course, but worms they are nevertheless. Lying, cheating, begging, useless grubs. What would they do with their money and food if I let them keep it? Gorge themselves and spend all their time gambling and getting drunk, that’s what. Far better for me to have it and use it wisely.”

King Ronald loved to taxes worms (excuse me) peasants. He taxed them for anything you could think of and 20 more things you couldn’t. Ronald had not only tax collectors, but tax inventors who spent all their time dreaming up new ways to tax the peasantry.

Ronald’s favorite days were when new taxes were announced. He’d hop up and down in his great hall while listening to the peasant’s pitiful cries from the city below. Their moans and groans were music to his ears.

He even made up a song about the whole process. He called it the Tax Song, and he often hummed it happily to himself. This was it, as well as I can remember.

                                                The Tax Song

Peasants, listen well and hear my call.

For what be said to one be said to all.

The time has come to do your duty.

And give me gold and other booty.

I will have gold to feed my knights.

So don’t dare complain about your rights.

You have no useful point of purpose,

Unless your toil is in my service.

You’re insignificant little worms.

Dirty, smelly, and full of germs.

Wicked, thieving, dreadfully lazy,

Fat, ill tempered, completely crazy.

Your filthy children are by far the worst.

It’s ‘cause of them you’re truly cursed.

I’ve seen them sit and pick their noses.

Watch them spit on flowers and roses.

Greedy brats, ‘twould serve them well.

To chain them up for quite a spell.

But at the very, very least

I’d starve the dreadful little beasts.

So, my peasants, the bell has chimed.

It’s time to pay for all your crimes.

I’ll tax the garden. I’ll tax the seeds.

I’ll tax the flowers, plants, and weeds.

I’ll tax bad breath. I’ll tax your rice.

I’ll even tax your own hair lice.

For all and everything you will pay.

Or get dragged through the mud this very day.

For my knights need food, bread to bake,

Cakes, potatoes, and juicy steak.

And if they can have food they’ll scream and shout.

They’ll maim and murder and be quite put out.

And if you refuse to pay the tax,

My men will come and break your backs.

We’ll dump you in water, beer, and ale.

Clap you together and throw you in jail.

So come and pay, and wear a smile,

And we’ll be friends for quite a while.

For if you don’t, you little twits,

I’ll have you carved in tiny bits.

So it was that King Ronald solved the problem of taking care of his troops.

A rather more sticky matter for the king was keeping up with the turnover of knights. After all, being a knight is not exactly the safest of professions. And with 5000 of them trampling all over the land on quests and wars, it’s only natural that there were a few nasty mishaps. There were the inevitable incinerations by dragons. There were the knights drastically altered by wizards. (And the less said about those the better.) There were the knights munched, chewed, and swallowed by giants. Worst of all, there were the knight who somehow dissatisfied King Ronald. They ended up wishing to be incinerated, eaten, or altered.

With all these job hazards, it was sometimes necessary to replace as many as three hundred knights a year.

Luckily, King Ronald’s mashed potato brain was working overtime. He came up with the brilliant idea of a school for knights, which he paid for with a new tax on education. In this way, there would never be a short supply.

Ronald’s knight school was not a school like any you or I ever attended. There was nothing like Math, Science, English, or any of the other subjects we find so important today. King Ronald considered such things rubbish, and felt it was best left to the peasantry.

When Ronald planned the school, an advisor suggested that some of those subjects should be included.

“Those things never did me a bit of good,” replied the King. “Always hurt my head. I’m not going to subject my knights to those kinds of dangers. No, it’s best to leave the peasants with that nonsense. Keep ‘em good and confused.”

The unfortunate advisor continued to disagree, so Ronald felt obliged to have him beheaded. After that, the king was pretty much left to make up the school any way he wanted.

Here is an average schedule of activities for the knights at Ronald school.

Royal Academy of Knights

Founded by King Ronald

Daily schedule

8:00 – salute to King Ronald

8:30 – jousting – today – 30 ways to knock a man off a horse

9:00 – swordplay

10:00 – history – great feats of valor by knights

11:00 – history – great feats by King Ronald

12:00 – strategies for fighting giants, dragons, etc. – Today – how to give a giant a hotfoot.

1:00 – cooking – today – 500 ways to cook dragon parts

1:30 – lunch

2:00 – etiquette – how to act towards damsels saved from distress

2:30 – warfare – today – how to loot and burn towns

3:30 – a salute to King Ronald

So, in his own unique way, King Ronald prepared his men for knighthood.

Now that there was a school, a final problem presented itself. Where would the kids come from to go to it? How would they be picked?

Most of the kids at the school were the sons of other knights. There was no choice in the matter. If your father was a knight, you had to be a knight. It didn’t matter if you were overweight or blind or allergic to dragons. You had to be a knight.

This was a stupid system. Four-hundred- pound men in suits of armor was not a pretty sight. Ninety-eight-pound men in suits of armor didn’t work much better. It was all quite ridiculous but King Ronald was a great believer in tradition.

Unfortunately, Ronald knights were always killed off of a bit faster than they had kids, so a few extra recruits were needed. Once again it was Ronald himself who came up with the answer. It came to him one morning after a particularly hearty breakfast.

“That’s it,” he cried, spraying bits of pancake all over the room. “I’ll show my worms I care for them. Each year there will be a lottery and a few lucky youths will be chosen to rise out of the mud and become knights. How perfectly wonderful of me.”

It was in this matter that our hero, Jordan Caulkins, began his training as a knight.