Reviews Archive

Review: THE BLACK CAULDRON by Disney

Posted June 11, 2024 By John C Wright

Rewatching the feature length Disney animated films in chronological order gives one a sense of the changes wrought by the changing years.

With THE BLACK CAULDRON (1985) we are still in the Dry Spell of lower quality films suffering from the lack of Walt Disney’s own genius, but we are nearing the end; for perhaps some hints of the Disney Renaissance to come are in the offing.

As with any Disney film, for some, this will be a favorite of treasured memory lodged in the heart, because it was encountered during the golden years of childhood. Alas, I am not in their number, having seen it during my grad school years.

Others regard this film with a jaundiced eye, calling it the worst fumble of Disney to date. I am not willing to be so harsh, merely because the technical accomplishments of the film are striking.

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Review Disney’s THE FOX AND THE HOUND

Posted May 30, 2024 By John C Wright

I have been watching the Disney animated full length features in chronological order. For most films, this is a revisit to childhood memories, but for two or three of them, which came out in the years between boyhood and fatherhood, this is a first viewing.

As with all Disney films, even the worst of them is someone’s favorite film of all time, for he saw it on that golden afternoon in golden childhood when only the most precious memories are formed. Those who encounter the film only with the cold eyes of adulthood cannot see it as it was meant to be seen, alas.

THE FOX AND THE HOUND (1981) is one such film previously unviewed. I have no young memory of it, and had never heard it discussed by any reviewer. As much as any Disney classic can be, it is obscure. But since it fell in the Dry Spell after Walt Disney’s passing and before the advent of the Disney Renaissance inspired by Howard Ashman, I had a low expectation.

Frankly, I feared, like ARISTOCATS (1970) and ROBIN HOOD (1973) and RESCUERS (1977), the film would be plagued by lax plotting, flat characters, poor animation, dull music, and dumb slapstick which plague the Dry Spell of Disney.

I am very pleased to say that THE FOX AND THE HOUND (1981) that such fear was misplaced. The film does not disappoint, and merits being ranked among the better of Disney offerings. The ending is powerful if sad, and brought a tear to the eye of this cynical old reviewer.

This is perhaps the best film in the Dry Spell.

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Review PAST MASTER by R.A. Lafferty

Posted April 15, 2024 By John C Wright

PAST MASTER (1968) is the first published science fiction novel by R.A. Lafferty, nominated for the Nebula and the Hugo, back when those awards were honest and meant well.

R.A. Lafferty is a mad genius.

As with Cordwainer Smith or Gene Wolfe, Lafferty’s work is eccentric in scope and approach, and will not suit conventional tastes. He is, however, quite Catholic, hence his vision is likely to be unappreciated by those who do not share his worldview: it would be easy enough to admire the psychedelic pyrotechnics of his work, while missing the sacred heart.

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Review THE EXPANSE

Posted March 5, 2024 By John C Wright

THE EXPANSE is a 2015-2021 television program based on the novels by James S. A. Corey, currently available on several streaming services. The first three seasons appeared on the SyFy Network, and the second three produced by Amazon.

Finally, after everyone and his brother recommended this show to me, I have taken the time to watch it. Woe is me that I waited so long.

This is simply one of the best written, most well produced and well acted hardcore science fiction series it has been my pleasure to see in half a century of being an SF fan. Each tiny realistic detail of real science shows the craftsmanship and even genius of S.A. Corey, and the faithfulness of the adaptation.

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Review Disney’s THE RESCUERS

Posted February 26, 2024 By John C Wright

I have been viewing and reviewing the Disney animated full length features in chronological order, both to get a sense of the trends of changes over the decades, to revisit childhood favorites, and introduce myself to films unwatched in my youth.

THE RESCUERS (1977) is one such film. I never saw it as a child, and so cannot give an entirely objective review.

It comes from the midst of Disney’s Dry Spell, when animation quality was low (at least by the stratospheric standards of the classics) and the plots suffered from a lax and wandering lack of discipline never seen when Walt himself, a perfectionist, was at the helm. This itself was one of the better films in the Dry Spell, perhaps presaging its end, and promising better films to come.

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Review: Disney’s WINNIE THE POOH

Posted February 18, 2024 By John C Wright

I have been re-watching the classic Disney animated features in order. After Disney himself passed away, the Golden Age had passed, and a long Dry Spell ensued: the work product was inferior, and the characters markedly less memorable.

Nonetheless, even the inferior Disney films from this period are superior to nearly any children’s fare anywhere, and will be the favorite childhood film of many a nostalgic soul. So, rest assured, even the poorest film reviewed from this period is one well worthwhile to sit down and show to your children.

THE MANY ADVENTURES OF WINNIE THE POOH (1977) is an oddity on this list, an oasis in the Dry Spell, first, because it was not a feature film, but an anthology composed of three short films, seamlessly strung together; second, because it captures all the charm and delight of Golden Age Disney, for two of the three were produced under the hand of Disney himself, while he still lived. The sheer childlike wonder and whimsy are overwhelming.

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Review: THE BOY AND THE HERON

Posted January 26, 2024 By John C Wright

THE BOY AND THE HERON is a 2023 film written and directed by the great Hayao Miyazaki, and produced by Studio Ghibli. This is to be Hayao Miyazaki’s last film, as have been every film of his since roughly 1997.

As most or all of his other films, this is a work of splendor, a fanfare of the spirit, plunging to depths and reaching heights where only great works of art dare tread. It earns highest recommendation.

It is, however, not an easy tale to unriddle, involving, as it does, themes hidden in symbols, visions and time paradox, and characters and events whose meaning is elusive.

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Review: LADYBALLERS

Posted January 23, 2024 By John C Wright

Coach Rob: This divorce. I think it is really starting to affect my daughter.

Gwen Wilde (sarcastically): Seriously? Of course your divorce is affecting your daughter: 70% of all people in prison come from broken families; she’s twice as likely to do drugs; twice as likely to drop out of school; four times is likely to have trouble fitting in; three times as likely to end up in therapy; twice as likely to commit suicide; 50% more likely to have health problems.

Gwen Wilde (Rolling her eyes): Do people not even do a freaking Google search before you decide to blow up the planet your kids live on?


LADYBALLERS (2023) is a sports drama and political satire starring, written and directed by Jeremy Boreing. It is noteworthy as being one the few conservative, countercultural films made in the year, outside of the crushingly conformist establishment media institutions, hence opposed, condemned, libeled and ignored by them, and subjected to an Orwellian Two-Minute Hate session.

As sign of this hysteria may be seen on the Rotten Tomatoes website (https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/lady_ballers) where, as of the time of this writing, the audience score from 5000 comments stands at 91% and the critic score from seven — yes, a whopping total of seven reviews from all professional film review outlets were penned — stands at 43%.

The hysteria is misplaced. LADYBALLERS is a droll comedy, not remarkably funny nor yet remarkably unfunny, not original nor yet unoriginal, but workmanlike, hence a pleasant enough way to beguile an hour and fifty minutes. The film sets out to do what it means to do, and earns many a chuckle and chortle, but no belly-laughs.

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Metaphysical Romance: Lilith

Posted January 19, 2024 By John C Wright

Lilith: “What I choose to seem to myself makes me what I am. My own thought makes me me; my own thought of myself is me. Another shall not make me!”

Eve: “But another has made you, and can compel you to see what you have made yourself.”


LILITH: A ROMANCE (1895) is the final novel in the career of Scottish writer George MacDonald.

In a way, it forms a bookend with his first novel PHANTASTES (1858), using a similar setting and genre to approach similar themes, albeit from an opposite perspective. PHANTASTES told of a youth entering fairyland, pursuing romance but finding self-sacrifice, dying and rising again to return to earth to begin a parallel life here. LILITH, in contrast, is about a man of mature years passing through a magic mirror into a desolate spirit world or limbo inhabited by the dead awaiting resurrection, where the alluring love-interest must be persuaded to the path of self-sacrifice for her own salvation. In this mirror world, those alive on earth are seen as dead, and those dead on earth are slumbering to await waking to eternal life.

Both stories are told in a fairytale fashion, with simply-drawn stock characters, heavily symbolic or poetical events, centered on moral challenges and conundrums. Neither are clear, easy, nor enjoyable reads.

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Review: GODZILLA MINUS ONE

Posted January 9, 2024 By John C Wright

The Godzilla film franchise is the oldest in film history, beginning in 1954 and spanning some 38 films: 33 Japanese films by Toho Ltd, and five by American partners, TriStar and Legendary. Cartoons and comic books and computer games starring Godzilla are myriad.

The latest entry is GODZILLA MINUS ONE, a masterpiece of the series, and worth watching both for longtime fans of the monster, and those who have never seen such a movie before.

If you have never watched a monster movie, and have no interest in them, watch this one.

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Review THE SHIFT

Posted December 6, 2023 By John C Wright

THE SHIFT is a 2023 film written and directed by Brock Heasley that combines Christian themes in a science fiction dystopian multiverse setting.

It is a triumph and a wonder of a film, certainly the best film made in years, unfortunately marred by an unclear theme leading to an underwhelming ending.

The tale concerns one Kevin Garner, Wall Street banker, with loving wife and child, health and wealth, who loses one after another, when he wakes from an accident to discover he has been shifted into a parallel world of dystopian misery.

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The Superversive World of Harry Potter

Posted November 13, 2023 By John C Wright

A trip down memory lane for my longtime readers. Here I reprint my first column where I used Tom Simon’s wonderful term SUPERVERSIVE. As one can see from the internal references, this was back a few years. Not much has changed.

September 15, 2014 By ISI Archive

In reality, the best way to find reality is through fairyland.

Fairy tales of any sort are more truthful about the eternal verities of the human condition than many a tale told in the realistic style. Stories about a bold champion of Camelot or the enchantress of Aeaea, or the great dragon beneath the Lonely Mountain, will tell you more of sin and salvation, love and loss and love found again, than a yarn about a cuckold in turn-of-the-century Dublin, or a decadent drunk living in West Egg, Long Island. This is because so-called realistic tales deal only with the surface features of life, what we see with our eyes, so to speak; fairy tales touch the mystery and wonder at the core of life.

This is true even of tales that treat the matter of ancient epics and ballads lightly, as when a young orphan discovers he is not of our world but a wizard from the land of magic hidden from human eyes.

Harry Potter somewhat cheekily, and with tongue in cheek, puts all the tropes of once-upon-a-time into modern garb, so that broom-riding witches play rugby in midair, and the sorcerer’s apprentice goes to boarding school straight out of Tom Brown’s School Days to face bullies as bad as Flashman.

But even a lighthearted treatment of the eternal things will brush up against eternal themes: Harry must face a Dark Lord who is a dark reflection of his own soul, and he bears the wound of his mother’s love, which saved him as a babe, upon his brow.

Harry Potter is the most successful book of all time next to Pilgrim’s Progress and the Sear’s Catalogue. And so, naturally, there is a certain cult, known in his world as Deatheaters, and in our world as Political Correctness, that seeks repulsively to claim that success as their own.

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Review: FIGHTING SPIRIT

Posted November 6, 2023 By John C Wright

Hajime no Ippo (2000-2002) is boxing sports-drama anime, based on a best-selling, long-running, award-winning manga of the same name, available on Crunchyroll at the time of this writing (2023). It was licensed by Geneon in 2003, and released under the name Fighting Spirit.

Two things urge me to recommend this sports drama even to those who might not like sports dramas. The first is that the main character is simply a nice guy: he is polite, earnest, and mild mannered, despite his stern ferocity in the ring. He is not dark or edgy or troubled, and there is no irony in him. These days, that is most refreshing.

Second, the author, George Morikawa, is the owner of JB Sports Gym in Tokyo. He knows his topic at a professional level, and it shows. That is also refreshing.

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Ye Have Not Spoken Rightly of the Lord

Posted October 27, 2023 By John C Wright

The Trials of Job and the Trial of God

The riddles of God are more satisfying than the solutions of man. — GK Chesterton

As wiser pens than mine have written, the Book of Job is both an historical mystery and a theological mystery. It addresses the suffering of the innocent, or, closer to the mark, the suffering of the righteous. Job suffers when he deserves it not, because and only because he deserves it not.

The Book of Job raises questions never answered, or answers questions with questions, and yet, somehow, the words offer comfort without offering answers.

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Metaphysical Romance: The Structure of Phantastes

Posted October 14, 2023 By John C Wright

It is rare to follow up a review with an analysis, but PHANTASTES by Geo MacDonald merits the attention.

First, it is such an extraordinary book, quite unlike its precursors or epigones. It mimics carefully the characters and tropes of fairy tales, knights and spites and evils trees, goblins and living statues and wise old crones and so on, but uses them to depict psychological or metaphysical musings on the nature of art, imagination, and spiritual reality. Unlike a fairy tale, this work is not structured around a plot, but around a motif. Like its narrator, whose name means wayward, PHANTATES is a wayward book. None of those following his footsteps, nor Lewis, nor Tolkien, follow this waywardness.

Second, albeit often forgotten, PHANTASTES is arguably the father of modern fantasy genre. Geo. MacDonald predates Wm. Morris’ WOOD BEYOND THE WORLD by thirty-six years. To put it in perspective, ALICE IN WONDERLAND was published seven years after, and MOBY-DICK seven years before.

Third, the book is so odd that I cannot say I have read any other like it, albeit I boast a library of fantasy both wide and deep.

It is a not book I dare praise or dispraise to another, for I cannot tell whom it will fascinate and attract or bore and repel.

And, unlike every other thing I have reviewed, this is not a matter of taste or judgment. It is deeper than that. Some souls need baptism in such a work as this, and others simply do not. Those whom the horns of elfland faintly calling from the far hills must follow them: others cannot hear.

For these three reasons, the work merits more than a review. It merits profound study, but, alas, this critic is only capable of shallow and cursory examination, therefore my beloved readers must bring their own deeper wits to bear on my remarks below, should any venture into the wayward elfin forest of Fairy Land MacDonald reflects in his book.

The book is not meant to be open to analysis.

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