Jeff’s Movie Reviews – Wonder Woman 1984

Jeff's Movie Reviews

A Little Less Wonderful

by Jeff Bowles

When the first Wonder Woman film hit theaters three years ago, it was met with substantial fanfare. The Greek goddess superheroine is more than just a cultural phenomenon, she’s a feminist icon, a symbol of strength and nobility for millions of people all over the world. Her first major foray onto the big screen meant more to some people than anything else DC Comics has ever produced, so yeah, its sequel has quite a bit to live up to.

Wonder Woman 1984 is, if nothing else, an interesting product of its time, 2020, a year in which it was supposed to have been released in theaters in July. Coronavirus forced Warner Bros. to push the film until December, and the studio chose to do so by mixing a theatrical release with a special limited release on the home video streaming platform, HBO Max. So you can watch this movie right now at home for a small membership fee, kind of a remarkable thing in the history of cinema. New movies always used to be, you know, out at the movies. But now, who knows?

Subsequently, the flick has been met with much less fanfare than its predecessor enjoyed. Wonder Woman 1984 has been a success of sorts, but it’s doubtful to make much of an impact beyond that. The reasons for this aren’t merely limited to its precarious release schedule. The story makes some choices that keep it from being quite as wonderful as it deserves to be.

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Gal Gadot as the titular hero in Wonder Woman 1984.

For one, Wonder Woman 1984 revolves around a somewhat ridiculous McGuffin that allows for wishes to come true. This is a comic book movie, of course, which I have to admit I’m a huge fan of, even when they’re loud and dumb. But it’s almost as if the entirety of the plot was constructed on a simple and somewhat lazy notion to resurrect one key dead character. That would be Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor, Wonder Woman’s traditional love interest. The movie works best when the two share screen time. Their chemistry is relatable and infectious, so it’s no surprise writer/director Patty Jenkins wanted to pull him back into the fold.

Also returning is Gal Gadot as the titular hero, and she’s still great. More comfortable this time around, perhaps, but then, she’s played the character a total of four times now. SNL alum Kristen Wiig joins the cast as a relatable if slightly goofy foil/villain whose wish to be just like Wonder Woman goes wrong in all the right ways. The Mandalorian’s Pedro Pascal plays Maxwell Lord, a DC bad guy who first appeared in a 1987 Justice League comic and who has now been given the 1984 self-help guru treatment. Pascal gives the guy a lot of juice. A lot of juice. Perhaps its best not to say too much more about it than that.

One of the problems with the movie is that it doesn’t seem to feel the need to indulge in 80s-themed nostalgia in any major way, not like other recent shows and movies set in the decade have done. Odd, considering they wanted me to know the year it takes places months and months before it ever came out. Oh, there’s some paltry lip service to the year 1984 scattered here and there. An early action set-piece takes place in a mall, for instance. But again, no 80s tunes or anything? No Simple Minds? No New Coke references? What gives, dudes?

Wonder Woman 1984 comes together all right in the end, but really, it’s just another example of a DC Comics adaptation that’s barely handled well enough to justify its own existence. I’m a pretty big comics fan when it comes down to it. Gosh, it’s getting harder and harder to compete in that space. They’ve already announced Wonder Woman 3. Let’s hope Patty Jenkins and Warner Bros. bring a bit more punch to the superhero party next time.

Jeff’s Movie Reviews gives Wonder Woman 1984 a Six out of Ten.


Jeff Bowles is a science fiction and horror writer from the mountains of Colorado. The best of his outrageous and imaginative work can be found in God’s Body: Book One – The Fall, Godling and Other Paint Stories, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces, and Brave New Multiverse. He has published work in magazines and anthologies like PodCastle, Tales from the Canyons of the Damned, the Threepenny Review, and Dark Moon Digest. Jeff earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing at Western State Colorado University. He currently lives in the high-altitude Pikes Peak region, where he dreams strange dreams and spends far too much time under the stars. Jeff’s new novel, Love/Madness/Demon, is available on Amazon now!

Love Madness Demon Cover Final

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Looking Back on 2020 and Forward to 2021

2020 has been an difficult year for all of us as Covid 19 turned lives upside-down. Here at Writing to be Read and WordCrafter, we saw some great accomplishments, in spite of the fact that my genre theme schedule fell apart half-way through the year on the blog and content was a little more sporadic. I had to figure out how to adjust to my own “new normal”, which life changes brought my way, but they also led me to remember who I am. Now, I’ve analyzed and regrouped, and I’m ready to head into the new year with new ideas and projects.

WordCrafter’s 2020 Virtual Writing Conference

One of the biggest things for WordCrafter was the 2020 Stay in Place Virtual Writing Conference back in April. We ended up with twenty-two distinguished authors, offering live stream and video lectures, and interactive workshops and discussion panels, with free content for the Facebook event and a Zoom platform for the interactive stuff. We had a good turn-out with only a few glitches, and we’re preparing to do it again in 2021.

WordCrafter Press releases in 2020:

Ask the Authors

In April, the Ask the Authors writing anthology was released after two years of compilation. This book is an ultimate writer’s reference with tips and advice from twenty-two authors, and it started right here, from a 2018 blog series of the same name. In November, the print edition of this book, (and all WordCrafter Press books), became available, as well.

Spirits of the West

The Spirits of the West western paranormal anthology resulted from the 2020 WordCrafter Short Fiction Contest, and was released in October. The winning story, “High Desert Rose”, was written by Enid Holden and is included in the anthology. The theme for the 2021 WordCrafter Short Fiction Contest was announced and WordCrafter Press is now taking submissions to be considered for next year’s anthology, Where Spirits Linger.

Hidden Secrets and Last Call

Two of my own books were also released. Last Call and Other Short Fiction is a collection of my short stories, and my paranormal mystery novella, Hidden Secrets, is now available in print on Amazon, but the digital edition can be purchased through other retailers. In the coming year, I will have a story in the Where Spirits Linger anthology, and I’m working on a new book, The Outlaw and the Rockstar which I hope will be ready to release before the end of 2021.

Raise the Tide

WordCrafter Press‘ first stand alone author’s book was released in December, Raise the Tide, a devotional book by James Richards. We also look forward in anticipation to adding the January release of a massive poetry collection by Arthur Rosch, Feral Tenderness, to this list.

Feral Tenderness

Writing to be Read 2020:

We had some great guests on Writing to be Read. On “Chatting with the Pros”, my author guests featured Diana Raab, Amy Cecil, Cherokee Parks, L. Deni Colter, and Kevin J. Anderson. I’m hoping to transform this blog series into a podcast, which can be accessed through the blog, in the coming year, and I hope you all will join me there. Other authors interviewed in 2020 included Mark & Kym Todd, Jade C. Jamison, and Alan Dean Foster. The most viewed interview was with erotic romance author Nicky F. Grant. Interviews fell by the wayside along with the genre themes, but I’m planning to bring back author interviews for 2021, and I’m working on a new blog segment, “The Authors’ Covid Coffee Clache”, which will address issues of the pandemic specific to authors.

Treasuring Poetry

Robbie Cheadle’s poet guests included Sally Cronin, Colleen Chesebro, Victoria Zigler, Sue Vincent, Annette Rochelle Aben, Christy Birmingham, Kevin Morris, Frank Prem, D. Avery, Geoff Le Pard, and Balroop Singh. Of course, each segment on “Treasuring Poetry” are filled with poetry examples and includes a review of the poet’s latest poetry collection.

Growing Bookworms

Robbie Cheadle’s “Growing Bookworms” has great ideas for promoting literacy in children. Topics discussed “Making Learning the Alphabet Fun“, “Reading and Mathematics“, obtaining a balance of parental approval, “Sir Chocolate and the Valentine Toffee Cupid“, the benefits of singing and rhyming verse for children, “Teaching Children to Read“, “Introducing Non-Fiction to Children“, “The Future of Education“, “The Great Roald Dahl“, “Chapter Books vs. Short Stories for Children“, “The Joy of Nursery Rhymes: Twinkle, Twinkle Little Bat“, and “Incorporating Reading into Christmas Activities“. The post with the most views this year was a “Growing Bookworms” post from 2019, “Developing Imagination and Creativity Through Reading“, and in fact, it is also the post with the most all time views.

Words to Live By

On “Words to Live By”, Jeff Bowles offers up his thoughts on writing and life, and writing life. In 2020, he reflected on “The Creator in the Creative“, “The Kid in the Machine”, “Sex, Love, Warfare and Death“, “Fear, Creativity, and that Pesky Pandemic“, “Love in the Time of Covid“, “Be Here Now (Sanity for the Modern Writer), and”Creative Legacy“. The most viewed “Words to Live By” post was “The Big Chill“.

Mind Fields

With Art Rosch’s “Mind Fields”, you never know what the topic will be, but in 2020, they included “T.V. Addicts Annonymous“, “Nightmare with Tracphone“, “The Power of Villians in Story Telling“, “The Big Grief or Computer Wipe-Out“, “The Air in the Sky“, “Obsession: Craving Flashlights“, “Curvature: An Essay on Discernment“. The most view “Mind Fields” post was “Am I Real“.

Super Heroes and Supervillains

In May, Jeff Bowles took over the spotlight as he took over the Super Heroes and Super Villians theme, with a look at “The History and Evolution of Comic Books“, “The Rise of the Comic Book Film“, “DC Comics Gets Animated“, “D.C. Comics vs. Marvel – Rivalry and Inspiration“, and a celebratory posts for comic books and super heroes, “Look Up in the Sky!

Craft and Practice

Also in May, Jeff introduced a new blog series “Craft and Practice”, filled with great writing advice, which covered topics such as “The Revision Process“, “To Self-publish or Not to Self-publish“, “Writing for Catharthis“, “Story Synthesis: The Ultimate Tool in the Tool Kit“, “To Comma or Not to Comma“, “The Odds and Ends of Worldbuilding“, and “What’s the use of Trunk Novels“. The most viewed “Craft and Practice” post was “Should You Write Every Day?“.

Jeff’s Movie Reviews

Jeff’s Movie Reviews” covered The Invisible Man, Birds of Prey“, Hamilton on Disney+, Bill and Ted Face the Music, The Trial of the Chicago 7, The Queen’s Gambit, and The Godfather Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone. The most viewed movie review post was for 1917.

Arthur’s Visual Media Reviews

“Art’s Visual Media Reviews” covered Homeland, Better Call Saul, 13 Reasons Why, Just Mercy, 13 Reasons Why (the later seasons), a critique of Marvel movies, and The Secret: Dare to Dream, but the most viewed review was a life review in “My Life with Jazz“. Unfortunately, “Arthur’s Visual Media Reviews” will not be appearing in 2021, but Art’s “Mind Fields” will be appearing twice a month.

My book reviews included Missing: Murder Suspected: True Crime Stories Brought to Life, by Austin Stone On Being a Dictator, by Kevin J. Anderson and Martin L. Shoemaker; Saint, by Amy Cecil; Heat: Book 1, by Jade C. Jamison; Old One Eyed Pete, by Loretta Miles Toleffson; Death Wind, by Travis Heermann and Jim Pinto; Severed Wings, by Steven-Elliot Altman; X Marks the Spot, an anthology of pirate fantasy tales edited by Lisa Mangum; Indominable, by J.B. Garner; Echo One, by Mercedes Lacky, Denis K. Lee, Cody Martin, and Veronica Giguere; the audio edition of Shadow Blade, by Chris Barili; Love/Madness/Demon, by Jeff Bowles; In the Shadow of the Clouds, by Jordan Elizabeth; Keeper of the Winds, by Jenna Solitaire with Russle Davis; Inspirational Visions oracle cards, by Judy Mastrangelo; The Freedom Conspiracy by Nathan B. Dodge; Disappeared, by Lucienne Diver; Fool’s Gold Rush, by Tim Baker; Terminal Sequence, by Dan Alatorre; Gunslinger, by Edward J. Knight; and Clay House, by Jordan Elizabeth. The top viewed review was Hold Your Fire, an anthology edited by Lisa Mangum.

Judging the Spurs

I was also honored to be a judge for the Writers of America’s Spur Awards and I reviewed my top six picks, and the winner of the western romance category, The Yeggman’s Apprentice, by C.K. Crigger. These were the best of the best, and I was honored to be given the opportunity to read and review them.

WordCrafter Book Blog Tours

Also, in 2021 Writing to be Read will be a host for the WordCrafter Book Blog Tours, so we’ll be keeping you up to date on several new releases as they come out. Robbie Cheadle will bring us a new blog series on nursery rhymes and fairytales, “Dark Origins”, and I plan to bring in a new series, “Writer at Work”, which will talk about different issues that writers face. Subscribe to this blog with one of the buttons in the upper right-hand corner to be sure not to miss this great new content or the tried and true content of continuing series on Writing to be Read in the coming year.

Dark Origins

Happy New Year and Happy Writing!

From Writing to be Read and WordCrafter

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Jeff’s Movie Reviews – The Godfather, Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone

Jeff's Movie Reviews

“Just When I Thought I was Out…”

by Jeff Bowles

There are few more legendary films than The Godfather and at least one of its two sequels. The American Film Institute named Part I the third most important movie of all time, coming in behind only Casablanca and Citizen Kane. The Godfather Part II is held up by many as a true cinematic masterpiece, superior to the first in every way, with a richness and depth rarely found in Hollywood films.

And then there’s The Godfather Part III, largely considered the weakest in the series, if not one of the weakest closing chapters of any film franchise, period. It suffered from a jumbled and imprecise development cycle, very nearly crumbling under the weight of its own narrative legacy. Originally released in 1990, The Godfather Part III was overly operatic, self-reverential, far too dependent on its own aging formula. Some casting missteps didn’t help matters either, nor did a story that had little of the depth or urgency of the previous two films.

Now, thirty years later, director and co-writer Francis Ford Coppola has resurrected The Godfather Part III with a new title and a new cut that is leaner, more focused, slightly (very slightly) different in tone and subtext, and essentially, not all that much better than it was three decades ago.

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Mario Puzo’s The Godfather, Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone (as it’s now known) may have an insanely verbose title, but let’s face it, the original cut was an odd duck anyway. Admittedly, it’s not such a bad movie to revisit. Michael Corleone and his supporting cast are some of the best drawn and most acutely emotional film characters of all time. And yet, shifting a few elements around and cutting a bit of bulk does not storytelling redemption make. The movie looks fantastic due to a new remaster and a simultaneous limited theatrical release alongside blu-ray and home streaming options. And yes, the deeper themes explored by the series as a whole stand in slightly starker and clearer relief than they did previously. But only if you’re seriously paying attention, because really, this is basically the same movie with a longer title.

Al Pacino’s Michael Corleone is a different man than the angry, murderous mafia don who ordered the death of his own brother in Part II. The truth is, Michael thinks he can buy his way into Heaven. Good deeds, charitable works, liquidating all non-legitimate assets and operations, cozying up to the church, becoming a better father. Family and the breakdown of familial bonds is one of the key themes of the entire series, and Michael’s family has been broken for years. His ex-wife, Kaye (played by the always wonderful Diane Keaton) dreads him and the bad memories that still plague her, and his two adult children love but barely trust him. Don Corleone wants out, but as his famous line of dialogue goes, just when you think you’re out … well, you know the rest.

The film benefits from increased contextual musculature and sinew, and the “new’ beginning and end aren’t so much new as better placed and/or better executed. Is it reason enough to watch all three in marathon fashion? Sure, why not? In the age of pandemic lockdowns, who’s to say what movie night can look like. As far as Coppola is concerned, The Godfather Part III was poorly named anyway. A coda, in musical terms, is a concluding passage that summarizes main themes and very often offers a sort of flourishing resolution. The Godfather, Coda does that in a way, but again, if you haven’t seen the original cut in years, it’s doubtful you’ll notice much difference.

Even still, time has a way of making old things shine. The first two films have aged remarkably well, and the series simply wouldn’t feel the same without an ambitious but clunky concluding chapter.

When it comes to The Godfather, Coda, you may want to leave the gun and take the cannoli, if you don’t mind the dumb Clemenza reference, but if you’re at all interested in what this new version brings to the table, there’s certainly worse mob stories to binge at home on a Saturday afternoon. I mean seriously. Netflix again, dear?

Jeff’s Movie Reviews gives The Godfather, Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone a Seven out of Ten.

Look at how they massacred my boy!


Jeff Bowles is a science fiction and horror writer from the mountains of Colorado. The best of his outrageous and imaginative work can be found in God’s Body: Book One – The Fall, Godling and Other Paint Stories, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces, and Brave New Multiverse. He has published work in magazines and anthologies like PodCastle, Tales from the Canyons of the Damned, the Threepenny Review, and Dark Moon Digest. Jeff earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing at Western State Colorado University. He currently lives in the high-altitude Pikes Peak region, where he dreams strange dreams and spends far too much time under the stars. Jeff’s new novel, Love/Madness/Demon, is available on Amazon now!

Love Madness Demon Cover Final

Check out Jeff Bowles Central on YouTube – Movies – Video Games – Music – So Much More!


Want to be sure not to miss any of Jeff’s Movie Reviews? Subscribe to Writing to be Read for e-mail notifications whenever new content is posted or follow WtbR on WordPress


Jeff’s Movie Reviews – The Queen’s Gambit

Jeff's Movie Reviews

Seduction by Chess

by Jeff Bowles

Chess is not typically known for excitement or suspense. The game of kings has certainly been portrayed any number of ways by Hollywood throughout the years, but Netflix’s new limited series The Queen’s Gambit makes it look passionate, dangerous, and well, sexy.

Maybe it’s the stylish 60s themes, fashions, and music. Or perhaps the magic of this series is in the writing, which is sharp, compelling, and just a little bit wild. So too is the basic look of the show. Each and every chess match (and there are quite a few scattered across seven hour-long episodes) has a different feel, a different level of intensity. And make no mistake, The Queen’s Gambit is all about intensity. To finish a single match is to look into the hungry and carnal eyes of your opponent and ask for another round. And here I thought chess was boring.

No two ways about it, Beth Harmon (played by the wonderful Anya Taylor-Joy) is a child prodigy. After a terrible car accident kills her mother, she’s sent to an orphanage and there befriends a lowly janitor who lives in a veritable dungeon of a basement. The janitor, by the way, happens to be a chess wizard himself. After some brief instruction and the early rumblings of blind obsession, Beth beats him, his chess club (all at once in a series of simultaneous matches) and then begins to play on the larger American circuit. She becomes an overnight sensation, her face on magazine covers, her name known to anyone interested in the game. But the fire in her belly is unquenchable. She’s a marvel and a ticking time-bomb. We know she will explode. The only question is when.

Anya Taylor-Joy as Beth Harmon in Netflix’s new limited series, The Queen’s Gambit

We are talking about the 1960s here, and at that time chess and master chess players were honored and respected worldwide. Beth’s basement-dwelling mentor warns her genius often comes at a price. Her personal demons take the forms of addiction, mental illness, and compulsion. Every single night is an opportunity for her to practice and read and imagine (or perhaps hallucinate) whole matches upside down on the ceiling above her bed. She pops a few of her favorite pills, which are never specifically named, maybe has a drink or two, and then she lies down and watches as the shadowy game unfolds above her.

The Queen’s Gambit is based on a novel by Walter Tevis, who passed away in 1984. It’s a shame he didn’t live to see the adaptation, because Netflix has done his book justice. There’s real emotion and drama here. Beth Harmon is a fascinating character, and though she’s entirely fictional, she and her world are so fully realized you might mistake her for an actual public figure. The show drips with passion and lust. It’s incredibly sexy at times. Imagine making chess sexy.

How rare is it to find someone who burns for something, anything, as much as Beth burns for chess? Mastering the game, explosive, sometimes cold, almost always calculated, but there’s a beating heart inside her, a need for appreciation, recognition, for someone to love and understand her. Even those closest to her see her as an enigma. So incredibly young, stunningly beautiful, dressed in the most Chic fashions of the time. A genius, absolutely. But always at a distance, just beyond everyone’s reach, right where she likes it.

Drug addiction adds an interesting element to The Queen’s Gambit. Self-destruction, it seems, can be as seductive as a tender kiss. Even if the acting weren’t top notch across the board (and it is), the fascination, drama, and blind ambition emanating from Tevis’ narrative is stunning. If you were as determined to become the greatest chess master of all time, you might develop a drug problem, too. Then again, maybe you wouldn’t. Beth Harmon comes from tragedy, and it follows her wherever she goes. Adopted by a married couple whose relationship was on the rocks to begin with, she learns from a very early age the only way to get by in this world is to commit to personal freedom and absolute autonomy. She drinks, she pops pills, but the ultimate question of what it all costs comes down to this: if genius and madness go hand-in-hand, when does the ride stop? Where must the line be drawn?

We’re never really sure Beth Harmon receives the answers to these questions. The Queen’s Gambit is an unexpectedly charming, gripping, and seductive limited series all fans of excellent storytelling need to stream immediately.

Jeff’s Movie Reviews gives it a Nine out of Ten.

I think that’s checkmate, everyone.


Jeff Bowles is a science fiction and horror writer from the mountains of Colorado. The best of his outrageous and imaginative work can be found in God’s Body: Book One – The Fall, Godling and Other Paint Stories, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces, and Brave New Multiverse. He has published work in magazines and anthologies like PodCastle, Tales from the Canyons of the Damned, the Threepenny Review, and Dark Moon Digest. Jeff earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing at Western State Colorado University. He currently lives in the high-altitude Pikes Peak region, where he dreams strange dreams and spends far too much time under the stars. Jeff’s new novel, Love/Madness/Demon, is available on Amazon now!

Love Madness Demon Cover Final

Check out Jeff Bowles Central on YouTube – Movies – Video Games – Music – So Much More!


Want to be sure not to miss any of Jeff’s Movie Reviews? Subscribe to Writing to be Read for e-mail notifications whenever new content is posted or follow WtbR on WordPress


Jeff’s Movie Reviews – The Trial of the Chicago 7

Jeff's Movie Reviews

Bomb Throwers and Peacemakers

by Jeff Bowles

Movie reviews generally don’t work when the reviewer gets too opinionated. Politics, for instance. Just kind of common sense “the movie guy” shouldn’t vent his issues with this candidate or that major event all over your nice, unsuspecting blog visit. I don’t even have to be qualified to tell you that, do I? I’m not qualified, by the way, not in the least, but then, who among us is? Look ma, no hands.

It should be noted, however, that this movie reviewer is a human being, and as is the annoying habit of most human beings, he can’t help actually having an opinion. And a unique perspective, he might add.

I might add. Sorry.

I’m a Millennial, which means Aaron Sorkin’s new political courtroom drama, The Trial of the Chicago 7, is perhaps made with me in mind. After all—and it’s clear as day for everyone with news access to see—the events surrounding the 1968 Democratic National Convention closely mirror protests and riots happening at this very moment, all over this country, chiefly led or supported by people my approximate age.

It feels like if you’re in your twenties or thirties in this day and age, you’re expected to be a revolutionary in one sense or another. At one point I had a nice job as a technical writer, and as the young blood, the fresh meat, revolution was supposed to have been my forte. That word, revolution. I wonder if most people understand what it means before an honest to god revolutionary moment has broken out. They definitely understand afterward, as did the eight men put on trial for an alleged conspiracy to incite a riot and provoke Chicago police into acting violently against Vietnam War protesters during the ‘68 DNC. This whole thing is so tied up in politics, nostalgia, and bright yet somehow startlingly foggy memory that it binds up my fingers and makes it difficult to type the full length of this review. And that’s saying something. I haven’t even gotten out of my bathrobe yet.

Truthfully? I’m more of a peacemaker than a bomb thrower. I think I recognize a time and place for the latter, but as the former, I can’t get behind violence for the sake of ideas, the most transient of all puffy white clouds in humankind’s mental skyline. The Trial of the Chicago 7 seems bent on assuring me revolution is a positive thing. Should I take the film’s word for it? I wonder. In fact, I find I’ve always had to wonder.

Aaron Sorkin is known for precisely two things: incredibly sharp pacing, dialogue, and character work that’s often rendered too slickly and can add up to less than the sum of its parts. And The West Wing. That too.

That this film has been in the works for fourteen years doesn’t surprise me, nor does Sorkin’s clear intention to finally produce and release it just before the 2020 general election. Yes, it’s star-studded and wonderfully written, and yes, it’s also too whimsical and nonorganic to present the events of that time and place with any kind of genuine honesty. Basically, all the historical components are there. These young men, they couldn’t have understood what they were in for. Sacha Baron Cohen is too old to play Abbie Hoffman but knocks it out of the park regardless, and Jerry Rubin is basically turned into a two-hour-long stoner joke.

Sacha Baron Cohen as Abbie Hoffman in The Trial of the Chicago 7

But what the heck? It’s not as sensationalized as an Oliver Stone movie, and I believe general consensus circa 2020 is that these eight men stood for something noble and endured a fascist political trial under a federal judge who had no intention of doing anything less than screwing them to the wall. Again, this seems to be Sorkin’s intended memorandum, and again, I don’t think I’m all that interested in agreeing or disagreeing. I’m the movie reviewer, after all. The movie is what it is, and my role is cut and dry.

Except to say this. If violent (and I must be frank, even nonviolent) revolutions are so effective, why do human beings always seem to wind up entangled in them? My mind works this way: there will never be a positive and lasting human revolution until and unless human beings themselves, on both an individual and collective level, revolutionize their own archaic hearts and minds. This nonsense of us versus them, this grand illusion, it has plagued us from the very beginning. I don’t bow down to more of it, and I realize I might be alone in that kind of thinking.

Also, very simply, it must be asked if Sorkin himself is aware of the ability of commercialized entertainment to stoke passionate societal flames almost as easily as calling for blood from behind a podium. The potential responsibility inherent in such an acknowledgment, it may be too much for his kind of star power. Regardless, his new Netflix film is easy to enjoy, to digest, and to dismiss. And really, isn’t that the best sort of popcorn entertainment?

I could engage with The Trial of the Chicago 7 a bit further, but not easily, not without being forced into more politics. Systemic racism is addressed, for instance. But not in a way that will satisfy people sick to death of the anglo-savior storytelling trope. Again, nuts to politics, what about the beating heart of a man gagged and shackled in the middle of a US courtroom? That would be Bobby Seale, the event depicted without teeth but after a fashion, I suppose, accurately enough. What about a growing awareness that essentially, we have the same soul, the same tormented passions? Does that kind of thinking seem present or absent in today’s politics? Or the politics of 1968? Or of any other era for that matter?

The wheel keeps spinning, the bomb throwers throw, the peacemakers do their best, and somehow, one way or another, all of it seems destined to end up on my TV.

Jeff’s Movie Reviews gives Netflix’s The Trial of the Chicago 7 a seven out of ten. Good enough for government work, if government work is indeed on offer.


Jeff Bowles is a science fiction and horror writer from the mountains of Colorado. The best of his outrageous and imaginative work can be found in God’s Body: Book One – The Fall, Godling and Other Paint Stories, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces, and Brave New Multiverse. He has published work in magazines and anthologies like PodCastle, Tales from the Canyons of the Damned, the Threepenny Review, and Dark Moon Digest. Jeff earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing at Western State Colorado University. He currently lives in the high-altitude Pikes Peak region, where he dreams strange dreams and spends far too much time under the stars. Jeff’s new novel, Love/Madness/Demon, is available on Amazon now!

Love Madness Demon Cover Final

Check out Jeff Bowles Central on YouTube – Movies – Video Games – Music – So Much More!


Want to be sure not to miss any of Jeff’s Movie Reviews? Subscribe to Writing to be Read for e-mail notifications whenever new content is posted or follow WtbR on WordPress


Jeff’s Movie Reviews – Bill & Ted Face the Music

Jeff's Movie Reviews

Party On, Dudes

by Jeff Bowles

Nostalgia is a fickle thing. Sometimes it can make new spins on old content sparkle. Then again, it can also blind us to bad movies, books, TV shows, really anything marketable to our hungry and impatient inner kids. Nostalgia is often manipulated by the entertainment powers that be. Apart from sex and death, it’s Hollywood’s number one favorite tool. So how did this happen? How did we come to see the release of a new Bill & Ted movie in the year 2020, almost three decades after the last entry in the series, the aptly titled Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey? In that movie, the hapless, witless duo from San Dimas, California went to Hell and back. Literally. Gosh, where else can we take them? More importantly, should we even bother? Especially since stars Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter aren’t exactly high school students anymore?

The answer is that while Bill & Ted Face the Music occasionally misses the mark, it never leaves us feeling empty or bored, especially if that nostalgia factor is in play. I first saw the original when I was a kid. I’m a product of the 80s and 90s, so you can bet this movie was more entertaining for me than it would be for audiences either much older or much younger than I. But if you’re in the mood for a fun, funny, ridiculous time travel movie that’s no more or less useless or necessary than the first entries in this series, look no further. Bill & Ted Face the Music is a great excuse to stay home and stream, avoid the movie theaters, avoid that pesky virus. Heck, I’m not even sure Face the Music would’ve survived in the normal corporate theater chain climate. It’s kind of a specialty product, one nobody was looking or even asking for.

Bill S. Preston Esq. and Ted Theodore Logan have had a hard few decades since they braved the time-ways and journeyed through Hell and Heaven. Their band, Wild Stallions, has failed to ignite the period of world peace and excellence guaranteed by their old mentor, Rufus, and though they actually can play their instruments now, nobody cares about their music, which must be a shock for supposed rock and role messiahs. And on top of everything else, their marriages to the royal princesses (remember them?) are falling apart. It is a most heinous and non-excellent time, dudes.

The rest of the plot is a hodgepodge of different ideas that reflect places and faces we’ve seen before. Bill and Ted must write that one amazing song they’ve been trying to write since they were young, and screw the basic scientific efficacy of the concept of time travel, they’ve only got a few hours to write it. So what do they do? Cheat and try to steal it from their future selves, of course. Meanwhile, their teenage daughters—also cheerfully known as Bill and Ted—go on a quest of their own to recruit for Wild Stallions the likes of Jimmy Hendrix, Louis Armstrong, and Mozart. You see, the girls still believe in their dads, perhaps blindly so. After all, we’ve been promised Bill and Ted would save the world twice before. What makes anyone think they’re likely to do it now?

As you can see, there’s a lot going on here. And it’s only an hour-and-a-half long. More jokes land than miss, and there’s a larger supporting cast that’s hilarious to watch, including a robot assassin that feels terrible, just terrible for killing the wrong targets and the return of fan favorite the Grim Reaper, the ultimate rock bass player, Death himself.

Ultimately, the ride proves worthwhile, especially since Reeves and Winter give it their all. Neither seems terribly put out they’re having to reprise roles they haven’t played since the first Bush administration. They still hit their “dudes” and “whoas” with perfect timing, and it’s genuinely nice to see them again. I’m sure these guys never thought they’d star in another Bill & Ted, and to listen to them chat about it in interviews, they couldn’t have had a more enjoyable time making it if they’d tried.

Some lingering frustrations may ensue if you’ve allowed your brain to clock in at any moment during the running length. Also know this: the special effects were finished during the initial stages of the COVID outbreak, so some of them don’t look as bodacious as they otherwise might.

But so what? Bill & Ted Face the Music has a mind to rock you, entertain and overwhelm you with its nostalgic charm, and just like the original, you might actually learn something about yourself and the world. Like the fact that the great Satchmo was one of Jimi Hendrix’s key influences. Or that you’ve got more of that old goofy teenager lurking in your heart than you thought.

Jeff’s Movie Reviews gives Bill & Ted Face the Music a 7 out of 10.

Now do me a favor and be excellent to each other out there. After all, any one of us can change the world. We just need to sing the right song. Catch you later, blog-reading dudes!


Jeff Bowles is a science fiction and horror writer from the mountains of Colorado. The best of his outrageous and imaginative work can be found in God’s Body: Book One – The Fall, Godling and Other Paint Stories, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces, and Brave New Multiverse. He has published work in magazines and anthologies like PodCastle, Tales from the Canyons of the Damned, the Threepenny Review, and Dark Moon Digest. Jeff earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing at Western State Colorado University. He currently lives in the high-altitude Pikes Peak region, where he dreams strange dreams and spends far too much time under the stars. Jeff’s new novel, Love/Madness/Demon, is available on Amazon now!

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Jeff’s Movie Reviews – The Secret: Dare to Dream

Jeff's Movie Reviews

The Law of Attraction in Action

by Jeff Bowles

The phrase “summer movie season” has a totally different meaning this year, doesn’t it? Point of fact, there really isn’t one. For the most part, cinemas have shut down all over the world, but that doesn’t mean people aren’t still watching movies at home. Maybe it’s old favorites with your Netflix subscription. Just chilling on the couch with your family, windows open to cool the house after a hot summer day … doing whatever it is people are doing to stay the heck away from Coronavirus.

Don’t worry. I’m not judging. I’ve literally forced myself to watch the entire Skywalker Saga on Disney+ four times. That’s a lot of lightsaber fights. A lot of them.

So here’s the deal. Writing to be Read is primarily a book blog. We talk about writing, literacy, try to keep you up to date on stuff you might want to read, and there’s room for some offhand conversations here and there as well. Normally, this time of year brings us a deluge of film releases, many of which are based on bestselling books (assuming you don’t get pelted by Marvel and DC before you make it to the popcorn stand). Now that the only real new releases are coming via the timely advent of at-home video streaming, pickings are slim, but I’ve come to you today to discuss a new movie based on a bestseller that is … well, let’s just say it’s more pop culture spiritual life coach than YA dystopia or gritty crime thriller.

The Secret, a book that teaches readers about the Law of Attraction, released in 2006 and summarily took the world by storm. It was later turned into an equally popular documentary, and eventually, a full-range self-help empire of near Tony-Robins-like proportions.

For those unfamiliar, the core teaching of The Secret is that we can have anything we want, as long as we keep a positive mental attitude, focus on desired outcomes rather than undesired ones, and basically have faith that the universe will provide exactly what we want, if perhaps not in the way we expect it. Plenty of people say it’s silly, ludicrous, wishful thinking, but there are many, especially in the New Age spiritual community, who hold The Secret as gospel.

Back in 2006, a bright and shining period in time compared to how 2020 has felt so far, the notion seemed plausible and exciting. After all, isn’t it determination and perhaps something outside ourselves, call it luck or grace or even the divine, that brings things into our lives right when we need them most? But then don’t bad things happen to us, too? And isn’t it cruel to blame people for their misfortunes by insinuating a negative mindset brought it to them?

Well, maybe. But that doesn’t stop the machine from churning. Now, with our movie theaters shuttered and barren like ghost towns, the international self-help brand The Secret has produced a feature film: The Secret: Dare to Dream. It’s a real Hollywood flick. It’s got movie stars, a genuine movie script, pretty yet bland domesticized locations. What it lacks, however, is the basic knowledge that pop spirituality, proselytization, and popcorn entertainment kinda don’t mix.

In recent years, there’s been a resurgence, a kind of renaissance, in Christian filmmaking. God’s Not Dead, The Case For Christ, I Can Only Imagine, these are movies of moderate budget, moderate expectations, that hit their audience and generally seem to work for them. The Secret: Dare to Dream is interested in riding in on a similar horse, although with a little veiled new agey-ness to go along with it.

Regardless of what you believe, surely you must admit that when entertainment becomes preachy it’s just not as, well, entertaining. And Dare to Dream does become preachy. Pretty darn quickly. That’s the whole point, right?

Miranda Wells (Katie Holmes) is a single mom and local restaurant manager who could seriously use a new house and a more positive outlook on life. When she literally runs into a guy called Bray (Josh Lucas) and damages the front fender of her van, Bray turns into mister fix-it, and as far as the filmmakers are concerned, enters the action specifically to transform Miranda’s life using the Law of Attraction. There’s more plot happening here than that, of course. There’s a superstorm, a hell of a lot of home damage (which Bray also volunteers to fix), and something of a love triangle.

The Secret: Dare to Dream - Movie Review by Jeff Mitchell — Phoenix Film  Festival

Katie Holmes and Josh Lucas in The Secret: Dare to Dream

I’m assuming people who are interested in this movie already believe in the Law of Attraction. Here’s a little “secret” for you. I sort of do, too, though the miraculous and unbelievable circumstances that tie Dare to Dream’s plot together have certainly never happened in my conscious daily experience. Still, I do believe in miracles, and I certainly believe our focus determines our reality. But some readers of The Secret have complained over the years that the book is way too dreamy. And you know what? This stuff is supposed to be ancient esoteric wisdom anyway, so what the hell is it doing in my Josh Lucas romance?!

That’s right, I forgot to mention Dare to Dream has love on the brain, and it takes a halfway decent stab at it, too. Not a total fail as a romance. Only problem is that educational tone, that preachiness, it pervades the entire proceedings. It’s clear that the negative people in the movie are on the wrong end of things, and it’s also clear this Bray fella is the proverbial music man of their lives, barging in and singing his song, improving everything with the utmost maximum charm at his disposal. Which is a lot of charm, as you can imagine.

Simple, right? Which is exactly what The Secret says about changing your life. In some ways, this is barely a movie, and it really ought to be pondered if books of a pseudo-spiritual nature, self-help-oriented and considered pure pablum by many, has any serious business being turned into a film Amazon wants me to Roku for $20.

I say it does not. But that doesn’t mean faith, positivity, and focus and determination are bad for us or don’t belong at the center of our popular storytelling. It’s just that transparent allegory—and trust me, this is the most transparent allegory you’ll ever find—turns people off. At least The Secret: Dare to Dream makes no bones about what it is.

I’m just waiting for the Deepak Chopra/Eckhart Tolle mashup superhero movie coming next year. It’ll be explosive. Or completely at peace. Depends on your point of view.

Jeff’s Movie Reviews gives The Secret: Dare to Dream a 6/10


Jeff Bowles is a science fiction and horror writer from the mountains of Colorado. The best of his outrageous and imaginative work can be found in God’s Body: Book One – The Fall, Godling and Other Paint Stories, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces, and Brave New Multiverse. He has published work in magazines and anthologies like PodCastle, Tales from the Canyons of the Damned, the Threepenny Review, and Dark Moon Digest. Jeff earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing at Western State Colorado University. He currently lives in the high-altitude Pikes Peak region, where he dreams strange dreams and spends far too much time under the stars. Jeff’s new novel, Love/Madness/Demon, is available on Amazon now!

Love Madness Demon Cover Final

Check out Jeff Bowles Central on YouTube – Movies – Video Games – Music – So Much More!


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Jeff’s Movie Reviews – Hamilton on Disney+

Jeff's Movie Reviews

I’m Not Throwing Away My Shot

by Jeff Bowles

For a Broadway musical that’s only been around five years, Hamilton casts a long shadow. It’s won countless Tonys, has earned millions of fans all over the world, and it’s just received a major home release on the Disney+ streaming platform, the date of which happened to coincide with the 244th birthday of the United States.

Movie theaters throughout the country are still closed, but that doesn’t mean new film experiences (or even old experiences freshly released) aren’t still coming down the Hollywood pipeline. Lots of films are seeing the light of day as home releases, and all the streaming platforms have really kicked their exclusives games into high gear.

I’ve got a confession to make. Before watching Hamilton on Disney+ this past week, I’d never seen it before. Scratch that, I’d never even heard a song. Not because I’m not a fan of a good musical or because I object to the combination of classic American history with modern American urban swagger, which so many people have seemed to do. Nope, my reasons for never having experienced a single moment of Hamilton are very simple. I am landlocked in the heart of the Colorado foothills, and to me, Broadway might as well be on the other side of the galaxy.

Still, if you don’t mind the impressions of a Hamilton virgin, I don’t mind offering them. The first thing that stood out to me was the simplicity of the stage and the complexity of the staging. Much like Rent, which I do believe Hamilton has borrowed at least a little inspiration from, the entire production happens on a single vague and rather brown-looking stage setup that is wider than it is vertical. Action may occur on the upper deck of the wood-frame stage construction, but its more likely to happen on a kind of front-and-center lazy Suzan that allows for an impressive amount of movement without much needed in the way of set dressing or overly articulated scenery.

All of this enables the raw performances to shine through in some fairly impressive ways. This is a play about Alexander Hamilton, after all, one of America’s more colorful founding fathers. Pistol dueling is kind of a thing in the guy’s story, and every one presented in this play looks, feels, and sounds different from the one that came before.

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The leading men of Hamilton

Some people have a problem with all the hip hop and R&B, especially as it’s applied to a historical setting and cast of characters that in reality were wealthy, white, and often owned slaves. Is the setup and mixture jarring? Not to me, but then, I like hip hop, and there is a certain joy to be found, isn’t there? Especially this year? In a positive modern depiction of American History from the context of race and ethnicity? The Battle of Yorktown, for instance, explodes sonically, and it’s all because the rhymes are strong and the vocals are powerful. Other unexpected musical treats include any and every King George III segment and the singular visionary performance of Lin-Manuel Miranda as Hamilton himself. He’s kind of soft spoken, especially in moments of reflection, and though he sometimes runs the risk of getting blown off the stage by more powerful performances, it’s never in doubt to whom this show belongs.

The cast disseminate a lot of information through song lyrics, so you have to stay sharp to follow the story for the first time, especially if you’re not much of a history student. This is perhaps my biggest gripe overall with Hamilton. In the science fiction and fantasy racket we’ve got a thing called info dumping, which implies in a sloppy way exactly what it sounds like. Well get ready, because Hamilton does an awful lot of info dumping, the kind you used to hate in grade school. Dates and names. Ewww. Actually, I’m not sure how else a three hour musical is meant to relate bare bones historical facts, but perhaps in the long run the history of one man is maybe a poor bedfellow for musical theater.

And what about the history itself? Does it check out in terms of accuracy? A lot of hay has been made about the show and its tendency to gloss over or just plain leave out certain key events and elements of Alexander Hamilton’s life and story. I honestly have to wonder as a storyteller myself, is that really such a crime? Or have quote, unquote “historical” plays, movies, TV shows, and even musicals been leaving out the dry stuff for hundreds of years? I mean for cripes sake, even Shakespeare fudged the facts in his famous histories. And that guy didn’t have to rap to sell records (sorry, couldn’t resist).

The performance shown in Disney’s Hamilton was recorded way, way, way back in the ancient year 2016, when people could go out without wearing masks and theater was actually something an individual could participate in. It’s almost like opening a time capsule, but that’s a welcome feeling after the year 2020 has been. Hamilton was a nice diversion for me over my Fourth of July holiday. I’d even say it was needed, especially at a time like this, when I like so many others have been forced to do some deep thinking about my world, my society, my culpability. Even if it’s not a perfect show, even if I get the sense I’ll have to watch it a few more times to really catch every nuance, I quite enjoyed the sense of completeness and strength given to me by Hamilton.

And hey, I’ve got time. Calculated and somewhat neutered American history paired with modern American swagger? Jeff’s Movie Reviews gives Hamilton on Disney+ a 9 out of 10.

How hot do you think all that wool clothing was under those stage lights? Yeesh. It’s enough to make a guy want to pistol duel someone, am I right?


Jeff Bowles is a science fiction and horror writer from the mountains of Colorado. The best of his outrageous and imaginative work can be found in God’s Body: Book One – The Fall, Godling and Other Paint Stories, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces, and Brave New Multiverse. He has published work in magazines and anthologies like PodCastle, Tales from the Canyons of the Damned, the Threepenny Review, and Dark Moon Digest. Jeff earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing at Western State Colorado University. He currently lives in the high-altitude Pikes Peak region, where he dreams strange dreams and spends far too much time under the stars. Jeff’s new novel, Love/Madness/Demon, is available on Amazon now!

Love Madness Demon Cover Final

Check out Jeff Bowles Central on YouTube – Movies – Video Games – Music – So Much More!


Want to be sure not to miss any of Jeff’s Pep Talk segments? Subscribe to Writing to be Read for e-mail notifications whenever new content is posted or follow WtbR on WordPress


Jeff’s Movie Reviews – Just Mercy

Jeff's Movie Reviews

Justice For All

by Jeff Bowles

Movie theaters across the country are closed due to Coronavirus concerns, so there aren’t many new major films coming out. June is typically the heart of the summer movie season, when all the major studios showcase their big releases for the year. Still, film buffs aren’t completely in the cold right now. Plenty of flicks that otherwise would’ve been released in theaters have come to on-demand services, and some true gems from the past year are getting a little well-earned, extended time in the spotlight.

One such film is perhaps one of the most relevant and urgently messaged home releases for this moment in history. I’m not referring to some pandemic movie that’s meant to invoke COVID fears, but rather a film that deals directly with issues surrounding the current international protests over the death of George Floyd. It’s an incredibly apt time to take a look at racism in the criminal justice system and in our society at large, and Just Mercy, directed and co-written by Destin Daniel Cretton, offers us an unflinching and impassioned portrayal of some truly chilling events.

Just Mercy is free to watch on streaming platforms everywhere for a limited time, and I highly suggest you do so. It’s an affecting film, one that forces viewers to confront the cold hard truth: as a nation, we have failed millions of our own citizens, placed them in handcuffs, incarcerated and criminalized them, often without the benefit of valid and Constitutionally guaranteed due process. As the film tells us in it’s closing moments, one in nine federal convictions has been overturned by the introduction of new evidence, sometimes years after an original crime was committed. That is a startling figure. Put bluntly, Just Mercy is about the wrongful imprisonment, dehumanization, and subjugation of black men and women, and I truly don’t mind admitting (in fact it’s a privilege to admit it) I was in tears by the end.

Jamie Foxx plays Walter McMillian, who, in 1987, was sentenced to die for the notorious murder of an 18-year-old girl, despite a preponderance of evidence proving his innocence and the fact that the only testimony against him came from a criminal with a motive to lie. The movie is really about the early career of world-renowned civil rights attorney Bryan Stevenson (Michael B. Jordan), who graduated Harvard Law and immediately moved to the deep south because, as he put it, “I’ve learned that each of us is more than the worst thing that we’ve ever done; that the opposite of poverty isn’t wealth, the opposite of poverty is justice.”

Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Foxx in Just Mercy

Jordan is terrific as Stevenson, passionately engaged in the portrayal of a young man who simply doesn’t have the word “quit” in his vocabulary. Jordan has begun to make quite a career for himself in this and other films that handle racism directly, though this might be his most grounded and honest role yet. It’s really Foxx who makes the biggest impact, though. Truly, this film offers one of the finest performances of his career. McMillian both chooses to believe and not believe in his right to fair and just treatment. It’s sort of the moral and spiritual undercurrent of the film. This system breaks people down in startling and terrible ways. Even when you’re innocent you feel guilty.

The plot is more or less similar to dozens of other criminal justice movies. A hotshot attorney takes on an impossible case, gathers evidence, faces obstacles and even risks his own life, all for the rights and freedom of his client. But it’s the raw emotionality that distinguishes Just Mercy. Look, we shouldn’t handle this stuff with kid gloves anymore. Either you believe the system targets minorities, or you don’t. A story like this has the capacity to change minds. At a time like this, that could be worth its weight in gold.

I’m a white American. I am not now nor have I ever been an individual who has experienced on a personal level the true horrors of racism. I’m not actually qualified to write a review for a movie like this, not as far as I’m concerned. But’s it’s important to me to listen at a time like this. To learn and to ask myself what I’d be prepared to do if it was my freedom, my life, on the line. Just Mercy is so powerful precisely because it pulls no punches. When a man dies on death row, you feel it. When a racist district attorney undermines and condescends to his African American colleague, it makes you angry.

Anger will only get us so far if we really want to change the world, but information, education, even in the form of a piece of entertainment, it’s incredibly important. And this a great film regardless. In my humble opinion—and by the way, opinions are everywhere right now, so I’m not intensely interested in sharing the full extent of mine—this issue has been politicized to an extreme and absurd level. Leave it to the politicians and pundits to make all the hay they want. With Just Mercy, audiences are asked to take an honest look at incredibly urgent matters and to do more than just think about them. This is a movie that wishes to provoke an emotional, intellectual, and societal response. And it may just do exactly that.

Jeff’s Movie Review’s gives Just Mercy a 9/10.


Jeff Bowles is a science fiction and horror writer from the mountains of Colorado. The best of his outrageous and imaginative short stories are collected in Godling and Other Paint Stories, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces, and Brave New Multiverse. He has published work in magazines and anthologies like PodCastle, Tales from the Canyons of the Damned, the Threepenny Review, Nashville Review, and Dark Moon Digest. Jeff earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing at Western State Colorado University. He currently lives in the high-altitude Pikes Peak region, where he dreams strange dreams and spends far too much time under the stars. Jeff’s new novel, God’s Body: Book One – The Fall, is available on Amazon now!

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Check out Jeff Bowles Central on YouTube – Movies – Video Games – Music – So Much More!


You can keep up on what Jeff’s been watching and catch all of his great movie reviews the second Friday of each month on Writing to be Read. Subscribe to email or follow on WordPress today.


Jeff’s Movie Reviews – DC Comics Gets Animated

Jeff's Movie Reviews

Cartoon Justice

by Jeff Bowles

This month on Writing to be Read, we’re exploring superheroes and supervillains, so for May’s movie review, I thought I’d discuss a lesser known corner of the major comic book film adaptation landscape.

DC Comics and their parent company/distribution overlord, Warner Bros., have gotten a bad rap for producing superhero films that simply don’t meet the bar established by their rival, Marvel Studios. Well allow me to clue you in on one area DC has Marvel beat: animated films. Direct-to-video, barely seen by non-fans, but actually pretty good and by and large, better than their big-screen live action cousins.

apokolips war

Justice League Dark: Apokolips War

Warner’s animation division has a long history of excellent superhero storytelling. Warner Bros. has owned DC since the 1980s. It took Marvel two additional decades to receive studio backing from Disney, probably because Marvel was in bankruptcy until it started making bankable movies like Spider-Man and Iron Man. But back in the early 90s, Warner Bros. and DC created the Emmy-winning Batman the Animated Series, which still holds up as one of the greatest Saturday morning cartoons of all time. All these years later, that same group is still together. They have released over fifty (count them, fifty) feature-length animated films that cover all areas of the DC universe.

Whereas Marvel requires audiences to have prior knowledge of their storylines before going into any given sequel, the DC animated film series rarely contains that much connective tissue, except in their main Justice League storyline, which just wrapped up this week with the release of Justice League Dark: Apokolips War. Now that’s spelled Apokolips rather than apocalypse; we’re talking a fire planet ruled over by Thanos-clone and best-dressed uber-villain of the year, Lord Darkseid. And that’s spelled Darkseid rather than dark side, because, well, he was created in the 1970s, and everyone in the comic industry at that time was on copious amounts of “powdered productivity”.

Justice League Dark: Apokolips War is an excellent animated film, one you may just skip if you’re not a fan. It’s got everything in it faithful DC-heads have come to expect. World-ending cataclysms, fists and superpowers and feats of incredible strength, magic and might, and more major character deaths than you can shake a batarang at.

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John Constantine saves the day in Apokolips War

John Constantine (that’s THE John Constantine, once played by Keanu Reeves in his own major film adaptation) is recruited by the Justice League to take down Darkseid for good. When things go terribly wrong, the population of Earth is more or less decimated, and it’s up to Constantine, a depowered Superman, and a small cast of other heroes to set things right.

Whether they do or not isn’t really the point. This small animated movie takes more risks with its characters than any big-screen Marvel romp. Perhaps because they can afford to. When I say there are a ton of unexpected deaths in this thing, I mean it. You never know who’s going to snuff it, which makes it all the more enjoyable.

The DC animated library is of much higher quality than you may expect. Most entries are made for adult fans, which is how you can justify an R-rating for Apokolips War. For crying out loud, these dying superheroes pop like balloons. Like bloody, spandex-clad, hope-to-see-you-in-the-reboot balloons.

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The Full Breadth of the DC Animated Universe

You wouldn’t want to sit your kid in front of Apokolips War, but the point is that over the course of more than fifty releases, the full breadth and scope of the DC universe has been on full display. We’ve gotten to see all corners and permutations, from Gotham City to Metropolis to outer space and DC‘s dark magical underbelly, loaded with lots and lots of characters the general public haven’t even heard of. If you want your DC education without sifting through stacks and stacks of old comics, these movies may be for you.

Marvel has a great reputation for entertaining if underwhelming storytelling, and right or wrong, they’re also perceived as being the light and enjoyable flip side of DC Comics and their brooding nature. To a certain extent, that reputation is in error. Read some comics from both companies in any given week and you’re likely to find tonal and narrative identicality.

So it’s kind of wonderful to have such a huge library of animated films that communicate what DC Comics is all about far better than their live action equivalents have done. Truth be told, I’d rather watch some of these cartoons than the likes of Batman v Superman or even the much-hyped huge disappointment that was Justice League.

You remember the Justice League movie? Yeah, not many people do, it seems.

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Do I Have Something on My Face?

But a good Justice League cartoon, now that I can get behind. The ending of Apokolips War is perhaps not as definitive as was advertised. Really, it’s just stage one of a massive retooling, but I’m fine with that. The legacy begun by that legendary Batman cartoon series from the early 90s is still in good hands, and you can pick out any one of these animated films and have a pretty good time with it. Plus, they’re all available for digital download and streaming.

Maybe animation isn’t your thing, and neither are comics or superheroes. But the truth is there is a massive installed fanbase that is ravenous for any new story from Warner Bros. Animation. These releases don’t do well financially in the larger sense, but every one of them takes great pleasure and care extoling the virtues of this kind of storytelling.

Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, and hundreds of other DC characters have gotten time in the limelight, a feat that will most certainly never be repeated in big-budget live action form. So maybe it’s a little silly to get invested in a bunch of cartoons, but if you have any love or curiosity for the full scope of what DC Comics has to offer, this is a great place to dig in and enjoy.

You weren’t planning on leaving the house anyway, were you? Oh, you were? Then stand six feet away and in that direction, please. I’m not Superman, you know.


Jeff Bowles is a science fiction and horror writer from the mountains of Colorado. The best of his outrageous and imaginative short stories are collected in Godling and Other Paint Stories, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces, and Brave New Multiverse. He has published work in magazines and anthologies like PodCastle, Tales from the Canyons of the Damned, the Threepenny Review, Nashville Review, and Dark Moon Digest. Jeff earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing at Western State Colorado University. He currently lives in the high-altitude Pikes Peak region, where he dreams strange dreams and spends far too much time under the stars. Jeff’s new novel, God’s Body: Book One – The Fall, is available on Amazon now!

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Check out Jeff Bowles Central on YouTube – Movies – Video Games – Music – So Much More!


You can keep up on what Jeff’s been watching and catch all of his great movie reviews the third Friday of each month on Writing to be Read. Subscribe to email or follow on WordPress today.