W.B. at the Movies: Godzilla Minus One

The last time I was in a real movie theater, it was Christmas 2019 and the film was Star Wars IX: The Rise of Skywalker. So I had a bit of culture shock when I walked in Wednesday evening: Every seat was a leather, power recliner, there was plenty of room for people to walk in front of me even with the legs extended, and each row was elevated above the other so high that everyone had an unobstructed view of the screen.

The occasion was a “Early Access Fan Event” screening of Godzilla Minus One, the new Japanese-language film from Toho, the movie company that started it all with Gojira back in 1954. It turns out that “Early Access Fan Event” was just a fancy way of saying you could see the film two nights before its official U.S. release on Friday. There were no special treats or features for Godzilla fans; it was just a regular showing of a new movie, just two days early.

Which is fine by me. I just wanted to see a Godzilla movie on the big screen with a state-of-the-art sound system, where a monster the size of a skyscraper looks as big as a skyscraper and its footsteps and roar shake the building. Mission accomplished.

And, oh my. I took to social media as the closing credits rolled. I wrote:

“Fellow geeks, the rumors are true. Godzilla Minus One is magnificent.”

The monster effects are as good as you’d expect in 2023, and on the Superscreen DLX with Dolby Atmos sound, it’s like you’re going to be squashed or at least hit by flying debris any second. But the human story takes it to another level.

It begins in 1945 in the closing days of World War II, and we meet Koichi Shikishima, a kamikaze pilot who lands at an airstrip on Odo Island and tells mechanics his plane is malfunctioning. There’s nothing wrong with the plane and it quickly becomes clear he just didn’t want to go through with his mission.

Shikishima is deeply ashamed of himself, even when a mechanic tells him it would have been a meaningless sacrifice given that Japan was days away from losing the war. The film follows him as he tries to atone for surviving a war where his assignment was to kill himself and as many enemy soldiers as possible at the same time.

Of course, Godzilla fans guessed what happens at the airstrip as soon as I mentioned Odo Island. That’s where the big lizard was first sighted in 1954, and the island has made numerous appearances in the 37 Godzilla movies that span almost 70 years now. 

People who come for the monster rather than the story might grow impatient with this one, but people like me who appreciate a good story with their monsters will go home happy. And even the people who want wall-to-wall monster action should be content with Godzilla’s moments on center stage.

A couple of moments would have made me stand up and cheer if I wasn’t so comfortable in the recliner. First, the final confrontation with Godzilla is undertaken by a stalwart group of civilians after a pointed remark that the job is too important to leave to the Japanese or U.S. governments. Can I get an amen?

My other “OMG this film is magnificent” is a musical cue. The theme that accompanies the opening credits of the original movie is called back in almost every film, and the makers of Godzilla Minus One dropped the theme at the absolute perfect moment near the climax. 

The last 10 years have been wonderful for Godzilla fans. The 2014 U.S. version completely erased the sour taste left by the goofy 1998 Hollywood debacle, and the American sequels haven’t been too shabby, either. 

But the last two Toho films have been, in my humble opinion, absolutely brilliant. Shin Godzilla in 2016 and now Godzilla Minus One have taken the story back to square one: Both treat Godzilla as a brand-new menace that had never been seen before. They fall more in the category of reboot than sequel. I love that approach, and I considered Shin Godzilla the second-best Godzilla movie ever until Wednesday night. Godzilla Minus One is simply breathtaking.

(The first Godzilla movie is in a league of its own, as I wrote not long ago.)

6 o’clock

“There’s something special about 6 o’clock in the morning.” What a great first line for a song. I’m not sure John Sebastian quite pulled it off — it’s not one of his most memorable songs — but many mornings at 6 o’clock, I sing the first line. 

This time of year, 6 o’clock in the morning is dark and cold and quiet, and I think the dogs are nuts to want to go out there. But I remember 6 a.m.s when the sun is shining and birds are calling to each other and the air is bright with the promise of a new day.

I’m guessing Mr. Sebastian wrote that first line in the summer.

Still, warm or cold, 6 o’clock represents the beginning of the day for most people, a proverbial and literal fresh start, a time for reorganizing and refreshing and preparation and taking a deep, quiet breath before plunging into the chaos of another day.

There’s something special about that moment.

Something, anything

The value of establishing a writing streak is enormous. Making the commitment to write something, anything, every day, creates a habit that is hard to break, and especially once you have sailed past 1,000 days, then 1,100 days, and then 1,200 days. You just don’t want to go back and start counting from 1 all over again.

Still, inevitably you’ll have a day like this one, a day when you can’t think of anything to write about except the streak.

It’s weird. You might have just finished your first significant bit of fiction in almost a decade and published your first significant bit of fiction in nine years.

It may, in fact, be your first published book of any kind in more than a year.

You might have all sorts of ideas rolling through your head.

And yet still, some days, you find that none of your ideas are formed well enough to convert into a coherent blog post.

You kick yourself for not working far enough in advance, despite your best intentions to work ahead and especially never to leave the blog until the end of the night. 

But you made a commitment, and so you sit down, reluctantly, to scratch out a little something about writing for the sake of extending a writing streak. 

“This is the 1,215th day in a row that I have posted something here — three years, three months, 28 days,” you write. “And isn’t that something?”

And you realize, why, yes, it is something, isn’t it? After decades of writing intermittently and thinking how good it must be to develop a regular writing habit, you did it. You’ve been writing and posting something here every day for so long it’s second nature to write something, anything.

You know there will be days that you write something more interesting or thought-provoking or entertaining, because you’ve already had days like that. You know there will be days when you come up with three and four and a half-dozen blog posts, because you’ve had those, too. 

In short, if you follow through on a commitment long enough, the days when the words barely trickle out don’t trouble you all that much, because you’ve also had days when the floodgates open. 

And so you write a few words about not having much to write about today, and you sleep well, looking forward to what you will write next.

Lessons in inflation

Comic books taught me everything I needed to know about inflation.

It cost more than it used to to make a 10-cent comic book, so they had to charge 12 cents. They had been 10 cents for more than 25 years, although as costs rose, they held the 10-cent price by cutting pages. The standard length of a comic book went from 64 pages to 48 pages to 32 pages. Finally they decided 32 pages was the minimum, and so the price had to give.

Twelve cents held for about seven years, but then inflation kicked in and they went up to 15 cents. There was a little experimentation with offering 48 pages for 25 cents, but that was quickly abandoned and it settled back to 32 pages for 20 cents, and then 25 and 30 and 35 and 40 cents. By 1980 a 32-page comic book was 50 cents.

Eventually other factors than inflation affected the price — the starving writers and artists won the right to be paid as if they were writers and artists, and better paper and printing techniques became the standard — so it’s not fair to say the 10-cent comic book of 1960 morphed into today’s $3.99 product, but inflation was the main culprit in the 1960s and 1970s.

I want to show you something about percentages and inflation.

That first price increase, from 10 cents to 12 cents, inflated the price by 20%.

When it went to 15 cents, that was a 25% increase.

The rise to 20 cents was 33%. Yikes!

Going to 25 cents was a 25% increase.

Going to 30 cents? Only 20%.

And 35 cents represented a 16.7% raise.

The hike to 40 cents raised the price by 14.3%.

Do you see? After a while, the inflation rate went down. But make no mistake, the price never went back. You could buy 10 comic books for $1 in 1960. By 1980 you could buy only two.

Don’t ever be fooled when the politicians announce that the inflation rate is down as if that’s wonderful news. The damage is already done.

The 10-cent comic book is gone forever.

Everyone knows it’s windy

I have never seen the wind, but I have felt it sweep cold into my bones, and I have seen leaves dance across the yard, and trees sway, and rain and snow fall almost horizontally. I have been comforted time and again by the melodious non-melody of our wind chimes outside my office window.

The wind is a mighty metaphor for God. I have never seen God, but I see the effects. I have seen God’s glory.

Early returns

One Facebook reader, upon hearing that Ebenezer is a sequel of sorts to A Christmas Carol and having seen Alaistir Sim’s immortal portrayal the night before, wrote, “maybe now we can find out if Ebenezer got back together with Alice.” Doh! I did think about putting a Mrs. Scrooge into the story, but she — whether her name is Alice or Belle — will have to wait to see if there’s ever a sequel to this sequel. I borrowed several characters from the original tale, but not that one. Dang!

(This is not to suggest there isn’t a bit of romance in the story, of course.)

The early reaction has been mostly positive, although so far most readers have been friends and family, who can be forgiven if they’re biased. I look forward to seeing what the “outside world” has to say, but thank you to everyone who took the time to read Ebenezer already and offer kind words.

And the audience for my podcast reading of Stave 1 has so far garnered five time as many listeners as the Uncle Warren’s Attic reboot earlier this fall, so my voice career is apparently not over after all. Thanks for listening!

And thanks most of all to Mr. Dickens, who conceived a Christmas carol in prose so endearing that it still packs a punch these 180 years later. 

Ebenezer: A sequel of sorts to A Christmas Carol

I am pleased with how my little Christmas story has turned out and thrilled that the day has come to send my fable out into the world. Thanks to everyone who pre-ordered Ebenezer, my “sequel of sorts” to Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, and now it’s here. If you pre-ordered the ebook, it ought to be in your hands already, and the print editions ought to be on their way soon — famous last words.

The paperback proof arrived Wednesday, so I am able to post the obligatory selfie, and I got a notice Thursday morning that the hardcover proof is going into the mail — I’m guessing today because Thursday was the Thanksgiving holiday. For what it’s worth, that translates to about a week from order to delivery for the paperback and a little bit longer for hardcover.

As my Christmas gift to you, and in the spirit of shameless self-promotion, I will be reading the story to you on the five Fridays leading up to Christmas Day, a chapter a week. You can press the “play” button above or (Lord willing and the creek don’t rise) find the podcast on iHeart Radio and Amazon Music by searching for “Uncle Warren’s Attic.”

This is a mere novelette by word-count standards, but it’s the first fiction I’ve completed in almost a decade, and my intention is to grow as an artist from here. And I would be remiss not to say, as I do in the “About the author” blurb, that this is the first work of fiction I completed after Red’s passing, but her love infused it with life.

For that reason I am committing all of the revenue I receive from the sales of this book to what I’m dubbing the C.J. Townsend Memorial Fund. I plan to tithe all of my book income, but Ebenezer is my “tithe book,” that is to say, this particular book is the first fruit of the next phase of my life. I’m not sure how I will disperse the proceeds of this fund yet, but since Carol Jean was an artist whose chosen medium was gardening, I’m sure a significant amount will go toward projects that are green and growing.

My goal in writing Ebenezer was to rehabilitate Ebenezer Scrooge’s reputation not as he was before that fateful Christmas Eve — a silly old humbug — but as the good and generous man he was as he lived the rest of his days. Whether I’ve had some success in that attempt is now up to you. Enjoy!