MovieGeek: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

It's not the longest title for an English-language film, but it's sure a mouthful and a touch cutesy. That meant I was going to scroll on by, but after I caught the trailer, I decided to give it a shot. After all, it's about a writer.

If you're a Downton Abbey fan, it's essentially a reunion, with four or five of the show's actors meeting in postwar England. I've never watched it, so that factor was lost on me. Instead I was treated to a pleasant story that falls just two steps short of enough emotional connection to make it truly good.

The premise couldn't be simpler: a member of the titular society writes to Juliet, a young writer in London (who is inexplicably successful and famous-ish), and after a brief correspondence, she decides to go visit the Guernsey society with the thought of writing their story. Apparently this is Very Far by British standards, but Americans would laugh. Her fiance Mark acts as though she's going to the ends of the earth, but Google Maps says it's about a six-hour voyage (including the ferry). So... St. Louis to Kansas City?

The Society's story is fairly interesting, set against the occupation of the British islands during World War II, but if you're expecting the British Resistance and insurgent spies, you're watching the wrong movie. We get the backstory in flashbacks, expertly woven into Juliet's visit. Of course she meets a handsome fella, and of course she uncovers the tragic tale at the center of the Society's formation, and of course there is an inner journey to be made from learning their history. 

There's also hints that Juliet is lost in London, with a post-traumatic flashback and dithering about whether to marry her nice, vaguely condescending American fiance. Dawsey, the handsome fella of Guernsey, provides a nice counterpart. Of course he does.

Here's the thing: throughout the film, it seems like it skates close to real emotional depth, and then pulls back. Juliet's PTSD episode makes her far more interesting a character in the opening chapters... then it sort of disappears and never happens again. She is best friends with her publisher, who is later revealed to be gay, and neither ever appears to suffer from the rampant sexism and homophobia that would have hampered or crippled them in the publishing world of the late 1940s. (More on this in a minute.)

For a moment we feel as though Juliet is skating into early postwar feminism, as Fiance Mark makes offhand comments about "letting" her pursue her passion. But no, the real reason she isn't wearing his engagement ring is not her supposed concern about Victorian marriage ideals, but because she's thinking twice about marrying him. 

Meanwhile the Society (full of wonderful British characters) is consumed with the fate of one of their members, arrested and shipped off by the Germans during the war. The missing Elizabeth is really the most interesting character in the film, and I found myself wishing for a movie centered on her. Most of what we know of her happens off-screen in the past - and it's all just a little bit tempered.

We hear of the terrifying acts of the Germans, but they never show it. There's a German soldier, who became their friend. He's supposedly a nice guy. So why is he fighting for the Nazis? It's never said. Even a single line about compulsory service would have added some measure of depth to his character, but the movie never goes there. We understand Character X did something terrible, but there is no real consequence - and how he supposedly betrayed his fellow villagers? Why? It's just sort of ... there.

And the movie never addresses its own anachronisms. Apart from one snide innkeeper, there's no explanation for how a woman could bear a child out of wedlock without anyone in a rural 1940s village blinking an eye; for how Juliet can be independently wealthy and free to spend months researching a book without publishing a thing or doing a single signing... it's nearly ludicrous in a time when women could not write word one without being shunted to "the ladies' page" of the newspaper to discuss tea and weddings. More than two decades later, women would still be writing under gender-neutral pseudonyms just to get published. And I cringed as she casually tells someone about her publisher's orientation, as though that wouldn't be enough to get him shunned or killed in the 1940s.

In the book, Juliet actually didn't say yes to Mark; she asked him to wait, because she had once been engaged before and broke it off when she found out her future husband intended to box her books in the attic. For a woman of literature, it would have been a hellish marriage. Mark is better - condescending, indulging in her little whims - but ultimately her story is one of a woman trying to find her true vocation that has nothing to do with love and everything to do with art, passion and purpose. 

But Guernsey isn't satisfied with that kind of arc. In the end, it becomes all about which man she picks. That was the biggest disappointment.

I didn't hate it. There's a strong theme throughout about the power of literature to transform and heal as well as entertain, and that's a theme I can enjoy. It's amusing, and well-acted by Lily James as Juliet and the assorted Britishers playing the Society. Extra credit, however, goes to Michiel Huisman as Dawsey, who could have simply remained "hot guy providing moral quandary for Our Heroine" and phoned it in. Instead, he plays a complex and troubled man, doing the right thing for the right reasons and carrying a lot of pain behind his hotness.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society won't change your world or draw you to tears. But if you're looking for an amusing piece to while away a couple of hours, you could do worse on Netflix.


MovieGeek: Christopher Robin

If you're looking for surprises, Christopher Robin won't provide it. But it is a sweet and endearing story with a moral you can see a mile away - and subtext you won't. 

You only need to see the trailers to know that Christopher Robin presumes that the titular boy of the A.A. Milne stories grew up to be an ordinary middle-management businessman who forgot how to play and be a child, passing along his seriousness to his own child, set to study and "work" without fun. There's a slight hint that serving in the war might have led to this seriousness, but the movie doesn't get that deep into it (other than one quick "war" montage that might be a touch unsettling for younger ones, but nothing too graphic for most viewers).

So naturally, Christopher Robin must learn to laugh and play, to "do nothing" as Pooh himself reminds him regularly. There's a problem with this moral, which I'll get to in a bit. 

The best parts of the film are the brilliantly recreated "stuffed animals" come to life in and out of the Hundred Acre Wood. In a nice twist, anyone can see and hear them, which leads to some delightful silliness, and less "Christopher Robin's gone mad" nonsense than I was expecting.

As usual, the most popular characters get the most play, with Pooh, Tigger, Piglet and Eeyore eclipsing Kanga, Roo, Rabbit and Owl (which is too bad, because I was looking forward to an underused Peter Capaldi as Rabbit). But frankly, my favorite parts of the movie were "any time Eeyore is talking." I adore Eeyore, and he was hilariously dour.

There's plenty of sentiment, particularly with child Christopher Robin's departure in the beginning for boarding school and "growing up." A softer soul than mine would have to pull out the hankies at that point (and Mr. CultureGeek definitely did). There's also some serious gloom, which I found interesting - work as a place of hiding from real life, seriousness as code for depression, and when viewed in that light, it seems a bit overly simplistic to posit that "doing nothing" is the best way to overcome it. 

This leads me to my main quibble: The entire plot hinges on Christopher Robin skipping yet another family weekend so he can work, apparently a habit for him. It's the final straw for his wife (a criminally underutilized Hayley Atwell) and the child who wants only to read and play with him. The entire movie depends on "priorities, Christopher!" 

Only... the movie makes it clear that if he does not do this task set before him, his entire division will be shut down. All the people who work for him will lose their jobs. (Their names are a mishmash of the actors who voiced the characters in earlier Pooh films, but unlike my suspicions while watching, they are not the actors voicing the gang in this film. Some of the personalities will seem a tad familiar, however...)

We meet them, and it is made clear that they are good, hardworking people... so it's hard for us to cheer on the moral of the story. Sure, Christopher Robin needs to lighten up and pay attention to his family, but do hundreds of people and the handful we meet need to go on the bread lines because Christopher decided to go on holiday for the weekend? It was a mistake to put other people's futures on the line for Christopher's Big Choice, in my opinion. 

Crobin

It's the balance between real life and the amusements of childhood that we are meant to strive for, and the movie does manage to tie this up in a sane manner that underscores a sly bit of 21st-century socioeconomic equality. I appreciated it, though I know it made some growl, because we can't have nice things. That's the subtext I wasn't expecting, and it would take too many spoilers to expound on how important that moral is - more important than "remember childhood and take time to hold a red balloon and smile," frankly. 

Still, we don't go to movies like Christopher Robin to examine economic class equality or the philosophy of a workaholic world. We go to watch Ewan McGregor perfectly carry an entire film acting with CGI stuffed animals so well-drawn I could forget they weren't real, and brilliantly voiced by Jim Cummings, Brad Garrett and others. You can't underestimate the skill in creating the characters - at one point Eeyore is soaked, and I swear he looked soaked and moved as though his stuffing were soggy. I forgot he was CGI, folks. And I don't think anyone failed to smile when Cummings' Pooh first spoke. 

It's a charming, sweet film heavy on nostalgia, and should make fans of the books and the Disney films happy. And if it reminds you to buy a red balloon and walkabout with the kids in the wood sometime, all the better. 


Linkspam grabs the Emmys and Comic-Con Trailers

It’s Emmy time, and the list leads with the usual contenders. Game of Thrones got 22 noms, but Netflix beat HBO with 112 noms vs. HBO’s 108.

Nominees for best drama are The Handmaid’s Tale, Game of Thrones, This is Us, The Crown, The Americans, Stranger Things and Westworld.

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Nominees for best comedy are Atlanta, Barry, Black-ish, Curb Your Enthusiasm (still??), GLOW, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Silicon Valley and The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.

The rest are the usual suspects, with a bit of a surprise in The Alienist for miniseries and Tatiana Maslany for lead actress in Orphan Black.

Since I’m completely in the camp for Handmaids, supporting actress is going to be tough. Three noms (which means it’ll end up going to someone else, with Alexis Bledel (who I did not know was married to Vincent Kartheiser of Angel fame), Ann Dowd and Yvonne Strahovski, who should get every award for the incredible and difficult performance she has turned out this season.

Where is Samira Wiley? Guest actress nom, along with Kelly Jenrette and Cherry Jones; and Joseph Fiennes as supporting actor.

It says something when a show is so intense, so visceral, and still so chillingly relevant that many people simply cannot watch it. I’m developing a theory, here: we watch the gore and misery of Game of Thrones as escapism, and yet the misery of Handmaids is too much for us. Because it’s too close to reality, to real fears and horrors we find on the front page.

And yet that is the very definition of important, relevant art. Art isn’t supposed to be a simple escape from reality. It should challenge us, challenge our preconceptions and comfortable thought processes.

Harlan Ellison argued that people are dumb because of television, because it feeds stimuli into our brains without requiring us to wake them up. Usually that's true. But Handmaids defies that, as few shows do. It isn’t an easy watch; I can’t binge it, as we might lighter shows. I have to parcel it out, which I would strongly recommend especially for viewers who may find its subject material triggering.

But let me tell you something, friends and neighbors: I finally caught up through the final episode last night. I’m not going to spoil it, but… for the last series of scenes, I literally had no idea what was going to happen next. It was physically exhausting, the tension and uncertainty, knowing that a happy ending was absolutely not assured and anything, including the worst, could happen.

I cannot remember the last time a show felt like that. It alternately makes me want to hide in a corner and make a protest sign and go march somewhere. That’s a form of art that transforms us, not just placates our boredom.

James Gunn is out as director of Guardians of the Galaxy, fired for horrific tweets posted a decade ago. Gunn apparently posted jokes about rape and this gem: “Laughter is the best medicine. That’s why I laugh at people with AIDS.” He’s very sorry. All right, I know there's been a lot of yelling about this on both sides. Here's my take, for whatever miniscule amount it's worth: Rape jokes aren't funny. They aren't funny now, and they weren't funny when Gunn wrote those tweets, and they weren't funny when the first comic laughed about how hilarious it would be for that woman in the front row to get raped right now, and I really can't bring myself to throw down for Gunn's fall from grace. The accuser may be a reprehensible human, but he didn't fake the tweets; Gunn copped to it. Gunn will work again, unlike Kevin Spacey, and if one director losing one movie gig means five comics stop making rape jokes, I'm good with that.

Andrew Lincoln has confirmed he is leaving The Walking Dead, but maintains he still loves the show. “A large part of me will always be a machete-wielding, stetson-wearing, zombie-slaying sheriff deputy from London, England.” Ha! I might resurrect my long-dormant relationship with this show to bid farewell to Rick, with or without hands.

• Really, Hollywood? There are already six movies in the works about the rescue of the Thai boys from the cave. Six.

• Locals: Tickets are on sale for 21 Pilots, which is a band the younglings seem to like, if the chatter around my house is any indication.

• In the category of some people never learn, Marvel has announced Iron Fist Season 2. Really? There’s a new showrunner, the villain is Typhoid Mary, and can they manage some actual writing this time? Because that was one dull series, and the fact that they greenlit this while declining any more Defenders bothers me immensely.

• Also, Die Hard is not a Christmas movie, as Bruce Willis declared in defiance of everyone on the internet. Here’s a rundown of other snarks from the Willis Roast.

This Week in Sexual Harassment News: I thought we might actually have a week with no news, for the first time since I started this subsection. However, Papa John's founder John Schnatty kept the streak going.

 

RIP

Roger Perry, 85, best known as an Air Force captain who runs afoul of the Star Trek crew in “Tomorrow is Yesterday” - and was actually a veteran of the U.S. Air Force in real life, serving as an intelligence officer. He appeared on TV shows ranging from The Andy Griffith Show to The Munsters to The Facts of Life, retiring in 2011.

Tab Hunter, 86, best known for films like The Burning, The Girl He Left Behind and Damn Yankees, as well as TV appearances on The Love Boat, Six Million Dollar Man and Hawaii Five-O. He was a Hollywood heartthrob in his day, and came out in his 2005 autobiography, discussing an affair with Anthony Perkins. He is survived by Allan Glaser, his partner of 35 years.

Steve Ditko, 90, creator of Doctor Strange and Spider-Man with Stan Lee. The primary form of Spider-Man - including costume, web-shooters, red and blue design - were all Ditko. He left Marvel in the late ’60s and went to work for DC and small independents. He was an ardent believer in Ayn Rand’s objectivist philosophy, and created the characters of Mr. A, The Question, and others in its vein. He was reclusive, denied interview requests and avoided the publicity booms surrounding movies based on his work. He was found dead in his apartment, where he lived alone, never having married.

• Bill Watrous, 79, trombone player and bandleader best known for studio recordings ranging from Frank Sinatra to Prince to Quincy Jones, including the soundtrack to Roots. For us on the geeky side of life, he was the trombone dubbed in for Riker on Star Trek: Next Generation. Now, I seem to recall ads saying that was really Jonathan Frakes playing, but Frakes tweeted an RIP declaring that Bill “made Riker strong.”

 

Trailer Park

It was Comic-Con. So there are more trailers than I could possibly include. I could probably do a whole post just on the Comic-Con trailers. But I have to actually do work this week, so here’s the highlights collected by Vulture:

• Sarah Paulson anchors the Glass trailer, the long-delayed sequel to Unbreakable that incorporates the lead from Split. Pending January 2019, and now I have to rewatch Unbreakable and finally snag Split, because it’s pretty compelling. I have a feeling poor Sarah is going to have a rearrangement of her preconceptions when this movie hits, and please let it be better than the last few Shyamalan outings I’ve seen.

• Hi there, Aquaman. We knew his hello in Justice League was just to set up his own movie. Look, he’s a physically lovely human, but it’s a good thing the production design and cinematography is equally lovely, because the plot looks like the boring parts of Thor crossed with the worldbuilding of Black Panther without the charm.

• Much sillier: Shazam! is accelerating the inevitable slide of superhero films from mythology to parody, I’m afraid. It could be fun, because Zachary Levi can’t help but be fun in anything he does. But I fear we’re only a few steps away from Abbott and Costello Meet the Avengers, folks.

• Anyone who knows my household knows that there was yelling and squeeing as soon as Godzilla: King of the Monsters dropped. Apparently they tried to snag some real actors (and hopefully won’t kill them off in the first reel this time), with Kyle MacLachlan, Vera Farmiga and Millie Bobby Brown as the kaiju whisperer. Or something. It’s not like I have a choice, folks. I married the biggest Godzilla nerd in the midwest. I’m going, kicking and screaming.

• CultureGeek Jr. was sold on Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald as soon as he realized it’s actually Hogwarts, Dumbledore and a return to the wizarding world. Now we have to go find the first one, because eight movies just isn’t enough for Hogwarts fans.

• I usually stick to film trailers in this column. However, we got series trailers for The Walking Dead, Doctor Who, Supergirl, The Purge (yes, a TV show), Good Omens, Star Trek: Discovery, Fear the Walking Dead, and many, many more.

 

Coming This Weekend and Next

Mamma Mia 2, which I somehow want to see even though I had zero interest in the first one, so we will probably hunt down the original and catch this one on Netflix.

The Equalizer 2, which likewise we did not see because we had not seen the original. However, CultureGeek 2 reports it was fun.

• Unfriended: Dark Web, which would be a fascinating framing device for a found-footage twist if only it didn’t seem to be torture porn.

Mission: Impossible - Fallout, in which Tom Cruise leaps out of helicopters again with an even more stellar sub-cast than usual. And we will line up like lemmings again, because the MI movies are Bond films while Bond is apparently hibernating. Fun fact on the internet this week: Tom Cruise is now five years older than Wilford Brimley was when he filmed Cocoon. This further supports the theory that Cruise has a framed poster of himself from Top Gun aging in his attic. Opens July 27.

Teen Titans Go! or something. Animated silliness with the second-tier sidekicks, with the voices of Nicolas Cage, Kristen Bell, Stan Lee and others. Opens July 27.

 

Continuing:

Hotel Transylvania 3, Ant-Man and the Wasp, Incredibles 2, Skyscraper, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, The First Purge, Sorry to Bother You, Sicario: Day of the Soldado, Uncle Drew, Ocean’s 8, Tag, Won’t You Be My Neighbor.


Linkspam wishes Captain America a happy birthday

Happy 100th birthday to Captain America! Otherwise known as Superman, until the real Superman comes back to the movies, Cap currently carries the banner for truth, justice and the American way.

How did we come up with this “birthday”? Someone zoomed in on Cap’s initial 4-F card for the Army and his birthdate is listed as July 4, 1918. Of course he was born on the Fourth of July.

Happy birthday, Captain.

And since there’s not been as perfect a match between actor and role since Christopher Reeve donned the red cape as the Man of Steel, Chris Evans had this to say on Independence Day:

 

 

• I try not to delve into politics on this blog. But I cannot let the #SecondCivilWarLetters go unmentioned… hee hee hee, sorry, I just read another one. The hashtag went wild after Alex Jones of InfoWars declared that Democrats (or liberals, I’m not sure which, he seems to think they’re interchangeable) planned a civil war launch on the Fourth of July. Thus began a cavalcade of internet snark unmatched in my experience - and, actually, very well written in most cases. It takes some skill to match the tone and language of an actual Civil War letter. And… tee hee hee… Sorry, I got distracted again. Go to Twitter and hit the hashtag, but only if you have several hours free, and try not to drink anything near your keyboard.

• A plus-size superhero? I’m casting the side-eye at all my comic-nerd pals, because not one of you has ever mentioned Faith to me. A superhero who actually looks like me (but with cuter hair)? And they’re making her into a movie. I’m braced for the Asshat Brigade that drove Daisy Ridley and Kelly Marie Tran off social media for being female in Star Wars, and I hope the actress who lands the role is as well. In the meantime, I’d best go look up some Faith comics!

• Wait, I thought movie theaters were suffering oh so much because awful MoviePass was letting people of limited means actually see movies on a budget. Those poor movie theaters with their box office up 29 percent over this time last year, a five-year high…

• My friend Kelly Chandler found the most awesome ad display for Luke Cagein Paris. No, I haven’t seen the second season yet; I’m still soldiering my way through Handmaid’s Tale, and then I’m up for Luke again.

• Ghost fans: Riverfront Times has a roundup of St. Louis ghost stories, which they call urban legends. Lemp Mansion and the Collinsville Seven Gates of Hell are prominently featured.

 • Have you wondered what Nicolas Cage was up to these days? If you guessed Spider-Man, you’d be right! And not as the villain - as Spidey! Wait, what?

Best Buy stops selling CDs. But no one is weeping, because we all buy our music on iTunes anyway and we haven’t bought them at Best Buy since Amazon showed us Best Buy was soaking us for 20 percent more.

• Hollywood Reporter has all the details of the live-action Aladdin, starring Mena Massoud, Naomi Scott and Will Smith as the Genie. Alan Menken has made up some new tunes, there’s a new character (Jasmine’s handmaiden), the Middle Eastern roles are actually played by Middle Eastern actors because Disney eventually learns, and Sherlock Holmes director Guy Ritchie is directing. Release is set for Memorial Day 2019.

Dumbo-tim-burton-socialWhat else is coming for live-action Disney? The Tim Burton Dumbo, which sounds like the beginning of a bad joke, but the trailer didn’t horrify us and that’s about all I can ask of Tim Burton getting his hands on yet more of my childhood. Of course we know Christopher Robin is pending, as well as a second Maleficent movie following the fairytales of Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, The Jungle Book (again) and Pete’s Dragon.

Live-action The Lion King is slated for July 2019, with James Earl Jones returning along with Donald Glover as Simba, John Oliver as Zazu (perfect), Alfre Woodard, Beyonce and a few other people you might’ve heard of.

Mulan drops in March 2020, and following that will be Pinocchio, Oliver Twist (starring Ice Cube?), James and the Giant Peach (again), Cruella, Tink, Peter Pan (again), Lady and the Tramp, The Sword in the Stone (oooo), Snow White, The Little Mermaid (with new songs co-written by Menken and Lin-Manuel Miranda, who is co-producing)…

And Prince Charming, stealing a concept from Fables comics that the prince is actually ONE prince who romances Snow White, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty, but telling it through the eyes of his brother, who never quite lived up to expectations. Directed by Stephen Chbosky of The Perks of Being a Wallflower and the live-action Beauty and the Beast, it’s pending.

This Week in Sexual Harassment News: Kevin Spacey faces new allegations of sexual misconduct, which are being reviewed by London police.

 

RIP

• I said at the time that I didn’t have words for the death of Harlan Ellison, the flawed genius of speculative fiction (please don’t call it sci-fi) who passed away the same day as the Annapolis shooting. Much has been written about Ellison, both positive and negative - everyone who ever met him has a Harlan Ellison story, and I am no exception. To understand Ellison, watch a documentary titled Dreams With Sharp Teeth. It is a well-directed, entertaining look at the man and the work, while unflinching at his controversies, legal battles, and the varying reputation he held in the craft.

Dame Gillian Lynne, 92, Tony-nominated choreographer of Cats and Phantom of the Opera. Beginning as a ballerina in 1946, she worked on seven Broadway shows, including three with Andrew Lloyd Webber and the 2004 Phantom film. Lloyd Webber renamed the West End’s New London Theater as the Gillian Lynne Theatre, the first non-royal woman to receive the honor. Married for 40 years, her husband announced her passing on July 1.

 

Trailer Park

Skyscraper finally gets a new trailer, and we stopped making fun of it and arguing whether it was a ripoff of Die Hard or The Towering Inferno. Instead, it actually looks like a movie we might want to see, since we like Dwayne Johnson and I adore Neve Campbell (why the hell wasn’t she in any of the previous trailers that looked so lame?)

Summer of ’84, yet another bounce on Stranger Things but with more satire for both the 80s and silly slashers. Though honestly, I think they get the 80s better than Stranger Things, but I haven’t seen Season 2 yet.

 

Coming This Weekend  

Ant-Man and the Wasp, because it’s summer and superheroes are required. 

The First Purge, whose trailers actually give this absurd premise for a franchise enough of a hint at social commentary that I’m actually interested in it.

Whitney, a documentary about the late Whitney Houston and her transcendent voice.

  

Continuing:

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom; Incredibles 2; Sicario 2; Uncle Drew; Ocean’s Eight; Deadpool 2; Tag; Hereditary; Superfly; Gotti; Avengers: Infinity War; Solo; Adrift; Book Club; Won’t You Be My Neighbor.


Linkspam doesn't want to float, thanks

I’m struggling to maintain enthusiasm for the new IT, which is depressing since it’s my favorite book of all time.

Look, the kids did all right, and while I thought it was goofy to put them in the 1980s, it had an okay Stranger Things vibe that I appreciated somewhat. And some of the changes were all right: I liked adding the painting to Stanley’s backstory and his struggles with the Torah; making Bev’s father’s creeper vibe stronger was risky but it worked (unlike adding the same vibe to Eddie’s mom, which didn’t).

Sadly, Pennywise himself just doesn’t scare me. It’s the teeth. Granted, no one could really live up to Tim Curry’s darkly gleeful Pennywise of 1990, but the new Pennywise could have been creepy… if they hadn’t given him Bugs Bunny teeth. Each time he waves at the kids, I expect to hear, “Wascally wabbit.”

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But what they did to Mike Hanlon’s character was unforgivable. He has no role in the Losers Club now, since the historian job shifted to Ben. Taking away the wonderful characters of his parents and replacing them with a horrible stereotype of the abusive black grandparent was simply wrong.

Now they’re doubling down and making Mike the adult a drug addict? Is there a Big Book of Hollywood Stereotypes they want to check off? Mike Hanlon grew up to be head librarian, a respected friendly bachelor uncle type with a passion for local history. Why oh why must they remove everything positive about his character? To be “edgy”? He was the one Loser who actually made it through without screwing his life all to hell. No, by all means, let’s make the black guy a drug addict! Clue bat requested for the writer’s room.

Never mind all that; we have a cast now. I have no real objections in casting, and am actually looking forward to James McAvoy as Bill Denbrough. Hopefully the actors can overcome whatever madness they’re doing with the script.

• It’s been a fortnight of bad news before I even get to finish Handmaid’s Tale season two, so I’m actually happy to see that Roseanne will be returning without Roseanne.

Resurrected as The Connors, the show will follow John Goodman, Laurie Metcalf and Sara GIlbert among others, hopefully focusing on the real lives of blue-collar Americans in this weird wild world we built since the original show of the 1980s-90s. Given Roseanne Barr’s cataclysmic explosion and subsequent firing, I am pleased to be given a reason to see these issues actually explored (and hopefully in a humorous way).

For my money: they’re gonna kill her off. And that actually could be interesting, watching these characters we know so well redefining themselves without the woman around whom their world centered, for better or worse. If nothing else, it should give John Goodman some great acting moments, and I personally believe him to be one of the greater unsung actors of our era.

• Scribblers! The St. Louis Writer’s Guild has launched 1764, a literary journal named after the year the city was founded. Submissions are open May 1 to July 31 for annual inclusion; micropay for poetry, flash fiction, essays, short stories and illustrations. Find out more here.

• I lost an entire dinner break to Cover Snark, a feature on Smart Bitches Trashy Books. No cheesy, poorly-designed romance cover is safe from their vicious pens.

Octavia Butler’s Dawn will be adapted for the small screen by director Ava DuVernay of Selma fame. Dawn was published in 1987 and kicked off the Xenogenesis trilogy, later collected in Lilith’s Brood. DuVernay is creating the series but has not signed it yet with a streaming service. Given her skillful work on A Wrinkle in Time, I think she’ll do just fine. Sadly, it was announced last summer (I missed it) and we haven’t heard much more since then. Here’s hoping it hasn’t fallen into developmental hell. If you haven’t read Butler (as sadly I haven’t, but plan to), here’s a good analysis and overview of her work. Butler died in 2006.

This Week in Sexual Harassment News: Terry Crews testifies before the U.S. Senate that he was harassed at a party by a male agent, and once he started speaking out, he was yanked off Expendables 4 after co-starring in the first three. Apparently he was told to drop his lawsuit against the agent, Adam Venit, or he would not be in the film. He stuck to his guns, so to speak. Venit, by the way, is Sylvester Stallone’s agent. Click the link and scan down to the part where he explains why he, a fairly large and muscular man, didn’t fight back. And then remember how many women get that question, and how no one believes them when they give the same answer: you can’t.

And if you thought Pixar was exempt (at least until you heard about John Lasseter)… I have bad news for you. It wasn't just Lasseter.

• A moment of silence for the Jerry Springer Show, inexplicably still running after 27 years and finally canceled, putting it out of our misery. Thus ends its long-running fiction - no, it was never real!

• The latest edition to the upcoming Watchmen show: Jeremy Irons. They aren’t doing a reproduction or reboot of the original graphic novel (they could only do a better job than Zach Snyder) but exploring the universe further.

• Eeek. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, because when you think about a fictionalization of the Manson Family and Tate murders, you naturally think Quentin Tarantino. But because he’s Tarantino, he’s got an amazing cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Al pacino, Margot Robbie, Burt Reynolds, Dakota Fanning, Damian Lewis… and it opens on the 50th anniversary of the Manson-LaBianca murders.

• Locals: Shakespeare in the Park has wrapped. I wish I could say you missed a lot, but for the first time in many years, I was disappointed. The direction just felt off to me - maybe it was Romeo, who simply didn’t sell his character’s passion, or maybe it was in the attempts to make Romeo and Juliet more accessible to a younger audience. The initial contact during the dance played like lightweight flirting with no feeling behind it just didn’t fly for me. It was visually lovely, and Juliet was fairly strong with extra credit to Lord Capulet. But for my money, you’ll get a more emotionally resonant experience from the Baz Luhrmann film, with all its frenetic late-90s weirdness. Let me put it this way: I felt more emotional impact from Paris’ mourning of Juliet than Romeo’s, and that simply should not happen.

 

RIP

• Joe Jackson, 89, best known as the patriarch of the Jackson Five family, father to Michael and Janet (and nine others). He negotiated the kids’ first deals, and he also had a heavy hand with them, according to the kids. He died of pancreatic cancer Wednesday.

 

Trailer Park

Predator, not to be confused with Predator or Predators, has a new trailer out with plenty of dark shadows and violence.

Miami Love Affair, starring Burt Reynolds as an extravagant art dealer.

 

Coming This Weekend

Sicario: Day of the Soldado. Maybe it’s just me, but I have zero desire to see this movie about a killer who suddenly develops a soft spot for a little girl.

Uncle Drew, the basketball movie about the old-timer squad including Kyrie Irving, Shaquille O’Neal, etc.

Sanju, a subtitled Hindi film about actor Sanjay Dutt miraculously in wide release in the U.S.

 

Continuing:

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom; Incredibles 2; Ocean’s 8; Deadpool 2; Tag; Superfly; Solo: A Star Wars Story.

 

Happy Independence Day!


CultureGeek ventures near the Murder House

Oh, American Horror Story. I’ve quit you. And then you do this.

Next season will be a crossover between Murder House and Coven, which were two seasons I actually managed to watch. Look, I stuck with it a long ways, but my taste for horror is of the creepy, chilling Twilight Zone variety, not “let’s count the ways we can rape” and eyeball-gouging with grapefruit spoons.

So AHS is trying to go back to its roots after last year’s politically-themed Cult dropped down from Roanoake’s levels set in 2016. Hilariously, the lowest-ranked premiere was the first season for Murder House in 2012, before anyone had the slightest idea what the hell American Horror Story was about.

I might be dragged kicking and screaming to try yet another season. But I’m honestly losing my patience with shows that only seem to exist in order to drag me from gory death to gory death (Walking Dead, I'm looking at you)

• Locals: The 18th annual Whitaker St. Louis Filmmakers Showcase will screen 20 films at Washington University on July 13-15 and 20-22, hosted by nonprofit Cinema St. Louis. Closing night awards will be presented at a free celebration at Blueberry Hill. Showcawe films will be chosen for inclusion in the St. Louis International Film Festival. Tickets are $13; $10 for students and Cinema St. Louis members and can be purchased at brownpapertickets.com.

Uncancelled! Lucifer has been picked up by Netflix for a fourth season after it was cancelled by (wait for it) Fox. This comes after Brooklyn Nine-Nine was rescued by NBC after it was cancelled by… Fox. Not so lucky: Designated Survivor got the ax from not-Fox (NBC) and Netflix was thinking about it, but so far nothing.

• If you can bear it, scan through Newsweek’s recounting of the 50 best-selling singles in U.S. history, and the oldest one is from 1997. Oh, my youth hurts.

• Locals: SIUE’s Beauty and the Beast opens tonight and runs through June 24. I am in no way objective; it’s my son’s collegiate theatrical debut and he was co-designer on the project, helping to build and design the sets and some of the special effects. So if you go, watch for the Lonely Villager/Wolf/Spoon, and enjoy the show!

This Week in Sexual Harassment: Not long after Star Wars actresses Daisy Ridley and Kelly Marie Tran left Instagram due to constant harassment and abuse, 14-year-old Millie Bobby Brown of Stranger Things has left Twitter. It seems some idiot Photoshopped her into awful homophobic memes with a hashtag #TakeDownMillieBobbyBrown, which just goes to show that the internet is entirely populated with cretins. She’s fourteen, you dipshits.

Also, follow this Twitter thread from Anne Wheaton on the horrific harassment she endured at BookExpo America, where apparently an attractive female writer cannot be taken seriously unless she’s willing to sleep with middle-aged buyers.

• Cue the fanwank! A released photo from Wonder Woman 2 appears to show a confused Steve Trevor in 1984, the setting for the sequel. Did Steve somehow survive the cataclysm of Wonder Woman’s finale? Is it Steve’s great-grandson, like in the comics? (Which is kinda squicky, but remember Captain America and Carter’s great-granddaughter? On second thought, don’t.) If it’s Steve, how come Diana still seems to be mourning him into the 21st century? Though I rather like the idea that this time, it's Steve who's the fish out of the cultural water. Filming has begun with Kristen Wiig as Cheetah and - we hope - a cameo for Lynda Carter.

Stevetrevor

• Ordinarily I’d be really happy that Ewan McGregor will play Danny Torrance in Doctor Sleep, based on Stephen King’s sequel to The Shining. Unfortunately, I was deeply disappointed in Doctor Sleep, which had an uneven plot structure and serious retcons - if you’re going to do a sequel or prequel, continuity is king. Still, Danny has had some serious demons to fight all these years, and McGregor has the ability to … shine in the role. (Hee.)

• Happy 81st birthday to my family’s namesake, Donald Duck! I do a fair Donald-quack, but it doesn’t translate well in print. So here’s a picture instead.

DLPCA_DLTWNSQCHAR2_20170910_8096115675

 

 

Tony Awards went to The Band’s Visit, Laurie Metcalf of Edwardsville for Three Tall Women, and several other people who weren’t in Mean Girls. Details here.

• There will not be a Defenders Season 2. I’m not sure if I’m happy or sad about this; I was fairly neutral on Defenders and thought it could have been a lot of fun if not for the storyline drawn from Iron Fist, which we all hated. Oh well, at least we’ll get more time with Jessica Jones and Luke Cage - the latter’s second season hits June 22 and reviews say it’s one of the rare ones that outshines the original.

• Apex Books is helping to raise funds for author Brian Keene, who was badly burned in an accident and does not have health insurance. All proceeds of direct ebook sales of Keene’s solo novels with Apex will be donated directly to him. The GoFundMe continues and is within a few hundred of its $55,000 goal, but early estimates now put Keene’s medical costs as $300,000.

Firefly. Still bitter. You can’t take the sky from me.

 

RIP

• Jackson Odell, 20, best known for The Goldbergs and iCarly. An actor and singer/songwriter since the age of twelve, he was found unresponsive last Friday in a sober living facility.

Alan O’Neill, 47, best known as an Irish gun-runner on Sons of Anarchy, apparently of a heart attack. O’Neill was born in Ireland - so yes, the accent was real - and worked on the Irish TV series Fair City as well.

Jerry Maren, 98, last of the original 124 Wizard of Oz Munchkins who sang as part of the Lollipop Guild in the 1939 classic, presenting an oversized candy to Judy Garland. Maren also appeared in The Twilight Zone, Bewitched and Seinfeld, among many others.

Anthony Bourdain, 61, chef and travel journalist, of apparent suicide. I hardly need to expound on this, since it was extensively covered by everyone, but the repercussions on his death continue days later (and the idiotic conspiracy theories).

If you are in crisis, help is available. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255; or text the Crisis Text Line at 741741.

 

Trailer Park

Halloween. Again. For the last time. Again. #pleasedontsuck

Funny. Sometimes a trailer keeps you all the way to the end, then loses you at the title. Unfriended: Dark Web was probably trying to draw on audience from the first one, but in this case, a truly creepy trailer gravely disappointed me by being connected to that lameness.

I usually stick to feature films for the trailers because these days everything from books to TV episodes to Shakespeare in the Park gets a trailer. But this Netflixer of Gillian Flynn’s Sharp Objects is particularly choice.

• Here’s my question about Serenity, which has nothing to do with Firefly, alas. Matthew McConoughey’s ex-wife, Anne Hathaway, asks him to help her do away with her current husband, who’s an abusive monster. Um. Is there any reason she can’t just call the police? Amazing cast includes Jason Clarke, Djimon Hounsou, Jeremy Strong, Diane Lane… very high-end for a potboiler. So hopefully there’s more to it than just the tagline.

• If you haven’t had enough Conjuring jump scares, The Nun is now pending. The trailer is nicely creepy, though I have serious misgivings about the admittedly entertaining Conjuring series.

• I’m still dumb-founded about giving Disney’s Dumbo to Tim Burton. (See what I did there?) Longtime Disney fans are curled into fetal positions remembering Alice in Wonderland and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The teaser is out, and so far we don’t hate it. It looks like there are big story changes - Colin Farrell has two kids who help take care of Dumbo, Michael Keaton is an entnrepreneur who recruits Dumbo (separate from ringmaster Danny Devito); and we don’t see Timothy the Mouse or wisecracking punster crows anywhere. 

 

Coming This Weekend

Incredibles 2, the movie we’ve all been waiting for seemingly forever. Reviews are strong, but it’s not like it matters: It’s Disney/Pixar, and we’re all going to see it because the first was… Incredible.

Tag, in which grown men disrupt each other’s lives in an annual dick-measuring contest to see who’s the best. Or something. Unimpressed.

Superfly, a remake of the blaxploitation original starring Trevor Jackson as Youngblood Priest. So far it’s not resonating with critics; 54 percent on Rotten Tomatoes.

Gotti, with John Travolta aiming for serious as the notorious crime boss of New York City. Someone pointed out that there are 44 credited producers on the movie, for which the reviewers rolled out their best terms: derivative, borderline nonsensical, connect-the-dots disaster, dismal mess… It has a zero percent on Rotten Tomatoes. Ouch.

 

Continuing:

Ocean’s 8, Solo, Deadpool 2, Hereditary, Avengers: Infinity War, Adrift, Book Club, Hotel Artemis, Upgrade, Life of the Party.

 

Finally: I made a big announcement this week, one that might affect this blog and definitely affects the rest of my work. Click here to find out what shenanigans are pending.

 

Happy Father’s Day!


Linkspam stands with artists in need

Mother Nature was one cranky lady two weeks ago, when a micro-cell storm hit the Art Outside festival at Schlafly Bottleworks. More than 60 local artists sustained terrible losses, both to their artwork and to their infrastructure - festival tents and display cases are not cheap, folks.

And speaking as a traveling artist myself, I am pretty sure my meager renter’s insurance doesn’t cover acts of God outside my home. I was not there, but if I had been, the loss of my stock and my  new tent would have been devastating. Some artists suffered a total loss; some tents were found hundreds of feet away on the other side of the brewery. Storm

A GoFundMe has been set up to support the artists, and EZ-UP has offered a discounted rate for artists who need to replace their tents. As of this writing they’ve raised $15,000 of a $25,000 goal, but remember that’s only $378 per artist divided equally. That barely covers the tent, much less fixtures and the lost art. Raising more would probably be greatly appreciated.

Not a fan of crowdfunding? The site also has a list and links to all the artists, so you can peruse their work - buying their stuff helps them too! Good luck to all the artists, and may Mother Nature stick to quiet browsing next time.

• Speaking of GoFundMe: horror author Brian Keene was badly burned in an accident Tuesday. He has first- and second-degree burns on his face and body, and is in a lot of pain. Like many freelancers, he does not have health insurance, so a GoFundMe has been started to help with his medical bills and lost wages. Best wishes to Brian, who has been a strong philanthropist and mentor to many beginning writers, and to his partner Mary San Giovanni.

• Locals: The St. Louis Symphony goes psychedelic on Friday with “Music of Pink Floyd,” including a full rock band, lights and lasers.

Pride. Mickey. Ears. They’re already selling out, even though they’re only available in the parks, not online. Naturally, there’s backlash, because being one of the first companies to offer benefits to same-sex partners, standing up to a national boycott in defense of Pride Days, and paying a salary 1.5 times that of the industry standard isn’t enough. (Am I the only one who remembers the ‘90s?) Hell with it. PRIDE MICKEY EARS, people.

(Not going to a park anytime soon? Neither am I, more’s the pity. You can get a Mickey rainbow pin online.)

• A really smart and thoughtful roundtable about women authors choosing to use pseudonyms and why. And then I spoke, and ruined the curve. Okay, okay, so I’m in the roundtable. It’s still an interesting piece from Sean Taylor’s blog. Did you catch the first roundtable, about challenges women authors face that aren’t usually faced by male authors? Here it is.

Beauty-Beast• Full disclosure: I am in no way objective about the upcoming performance of Beauty and the Beast at SIUE’s Summer Showbiz Theater. Why? It’s my son’s collegiate theatrical debut. Look for a sadly unmarried villager; the head of the wolfpack; and a really tall spoon. (Hint: He’s all three.) And you can watch the rest of it, too.

Director Kate Slovinski said when she first saw the animated film, she was delighted to see a heroine who was an active participant in resisting the forces opposing her. ““In addition to a relatable and admirable heroine, I found great comfort in the tale of the Beast as well,” continued Slovinski. “As a young lady contemplating a new life ahead of her, I was terrified of the consequences that could come from making a bad decision. The Beast suffers a curse for a terrible choice he made, with seemingly irrevocable consequences. Still, somehow, he finds redemption and a life better than he dared imagine.”

Opening night is nearing sold-out, so catch your tickets in advance! Beauty runs June 15-24 at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. For more info, email theater-tickets@siue.edu.

• Many thanks to the Authors Guild and RWA for fighting back against #CockyGate. I hate the trend of tagging -gate on every controversy, but anything that keeps us aware of this kind of nonsense helps - especially since someone already tried to follow suit with “Forever.” Authors Guild and RWA joined forces to fight the “cocky” trademark in court and won. It’s not immediately apparent what will happen to authors whose books were pulled down or otherwise damaged during this utter nonsense, but other cocky books will go forward.

• In other crazy publishing news, Jim C. Hines has the smartest take yet on the agent-crook debacle. In short: a highly respected and prestigious literary agency is flailing after finding out its one and only money-man was embezzling, from the agency and from the authors. The fallout is still descending, but it doesn’t look good for the future of the company or for the authors who are now broke and owed more than $3 million. In the ensuing crazy, there’s been a call for better controls and/or eliminating agents entirely, which struck me as a bridge too far, especially considering how many publishers won’t deal with unagented authors.

SOLO is now at $148 million domestic, $264 million worldwide. Somehow this is still being termed as a terrible failure, a flop…. I really hate that, because I enjoyed it much more than I expected, and it left off with wide possibilities of a sequel or three and I was really looking forward to that. It’s still the highest-grossing Memorial Day release in four years, and not far below the all-time highest release for that time.

The TLJ-haters are insisting that it’s “payback” for having Star Wars movies about icky girls, but I’m betting the “soft” numbers are because it’s only five months since the last movie, and they really should avoid flooding the market. There are two other Geek Films still in the theaters and Black Panther just came out of Blu-ray. We only have so much money, guys - and this production got a lot of bad press when they originally put it in the hands of dudebros looking for a cheap laugh.

Alternative analysis pointed out, wisely, that “if the franchise was able to survive Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones, we have a hard time believing Last Jedi could do that much damage.” Instead, they note “uncharacteristically (for Disney) poor marketing." The teaser had only 10 seconds of the lead actor’s face, which didn’t do enough to sell him as Han or as hero, he said.

After the first weekend, I was protesting tagging it as a flop altogether, because it really was strong for Memorial Day. However, it’s lost 65 percent in its second weekend, which doesn’t look good. Folks, see the movie. It was fun, worthy of inclusion in the franchise, and beats the hell out of a lot of the other stuff out there.

• A smart analysis of the next phases of the MCU by ScreenRant’s awesome Lauren Wethers. I’ve already argued against killing a Black Widow solo film, but otherwise she’s very much on target, especially advocacy for a Ms. Marvel film and mixing in the X-Men. (Also, I will fight anyone who says we don’t need more Captain America. Cap is my Superman while Superman is hibernating.)

• Muahahahaha. The Heathers reboot TV show is canceled without even airing. I think someone might actually have watched it. It was already delayed since it “didn’t feel right” to premiere a “hilarious” series about bullying and murder in a school after the Parkland shooting (and all the other shootings). I already made my opinion clear.

• Sequel alert: Maleficent is up next, with Angelina Jolie returning as Maleficent, Ellie Fanning as Aurora, Michelle Pfeiffer as a new Queen Ingrith, and Chiwetel Ejiofor showing up as an as-yet unknown character.

• In today’s Asshole Damage Report, Kelly Marie Tran had to delete her Instagram after months of horrifying sexist, racist harassment and threats against her life. She’s been abused on Twitter, and some asshat edited her Wookieepedia entry to fill it with racial slurs.

You have to wonder what actually passes for thought in the mind of a man who thinks an actress’s portrayal in a science fiction movie deserves threats of rape and murder. How does that seem rational to him? Daisy Ridley, by the way, also jumped off Instagram after she posted about gun control while attending a tribute to the victims of the Orlando Pulse shooting. Gasp! She had an opinion, and they were off to the races.

Yahoo U.K. points out that people were horrible to Jake Lloyd after Phantom Menace too, but that was before the internet became what it is now - and, frankly, the viciousness shown to women has always been especially ugly. As Chuck Wendig pointed out on Twitter, “Their names change - MRA, incel, gamer-gate, comics-gate, sad puppies, Real Star Wars Fans — but at the heart of it is the same fragile rage born of the poisonous chemical combination of white supremacy and toxic masculinity.” Naturally, Wendig is now facing nasty harassment online.

Brian De Palma is joining with two other producers for a movie allegedly inspired by Harvey Weinstein, using the Toronto Film Festival as backdrop, starring Rachel McAdams and titled Predator. All I’ve heard about it so far is complaints that the producers are all men - you know, like 95 percent of the movies made in Hollywood. I will reserve further judgment until I hear more.

You know, I should really just create a separate category for #MeToo and "Today in Sexual Harassment News," because sadly, I never run out of material.

• James Cameron will shoot the Avatar sequels using Sony Venice cameras with 3-D stereoscopic rigs with high dynamic range and incorporating high frame rates. If you know what all that means, you’re smarter than me. Fortunately, Hollywood Reporter translated that it’s a fancy 3-D native method of shooting, allowing the film to be basically the next step forward in 3-D.

Here’s my problem: if you can’t watch 3-D without a horrific headache, will you be able to watch the film? Cameron says the movie will be 3-D without the need for glasses — oookay — and I don’t know if that makes a difference to the small percentage who, like me, become terribly ill watching 3-D.

Also, might he remember to have a story this time? One that he didn’t crib from Dances With Wolves? The four sequels start hitting theaters in 2020, which explains why Disney created a whole new land in its Florida Animal Kingdom park around Avatar. (It’s pretty.)

• Locals: The St. Louis Public Library will serve free lunches to children Monday-Friday all summer. Partnered with Operation Food Search, six SLPL locations are participating: Carpenter, Carondolet, Divoli, Kingshighway, Julia Davis and the Central Library. According to Operation Food Search, one in four kids in the St. Louis bi-state area goes to bed hungry each night, and many only received a full daily meal at school. Details are here.

 

RIP

Gardner Dozois, 70, longtime science fiction editor and co-founder of Asimov’s Science Fiction. He was editor-in-chief from 1985 until retiring in 2004, won 15 Hugos and arguably helped shape the science fiction genre in the latter half of the 20th century. He was also an author in his own right, columnist, journalist, editor of more than 150 anthologies, critic… His wife, Susan Casper, predeceased him in February 2017. In his final year, he published five books, two of them works completed but not yet published by his wife before her death.

Kate Spade, 55, fashion designer and corporate leader, died by apparent suicide in her New York City apartment. The designer started her company in 1993 and has more than 140 retail shops domestic and 175 internationally, but she stepped away in 2007 a year after it was acquired by Neiman Marcus Group for $125 million. Coach Inc. announced plans last year to buy the brand for $2.4 billion. Spade had started a new handbag company, and changed her name to Katherine Noel Frances Valentine Brosnahan Spade.

If you are in crisis, help is available. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255; or text the Crisis Text Line at 741741.

 

Trailer Park

It’s Star Trek 11: The Real One! Wait, no it’s not. It stars Doug Jones, Tim Russ, Marina Sirtis and Armin Shimerman. Fake-out. 5th Passenger is a sci-fi thriller with a pregnant officer trying to survive with her surviving crew in an escape pod when a mysterious life form attacks. Alien? I don’t care, it’s good enough to steal. Crowdfunded to life, this film caught attention at the Artemis Women in Action Film Festival, and sadly will be released on demand instead of in theaters, because we can’t have nice things.

 

Coming This Weekend

Ocean’s 8, where we’re remaking the remaking of a caper film but with all women. I’m kind of iffy on the trailers, and Rotten Tomatoes doesn’t have a score yet.

Hotel Artemis. This is that weird near-future thriller with Jodie Foster as the cranky doctor who runs a private hospital for criminals that depends on strict rules, and then someone breaks the rules. Wackiness ensues, if by wackiness you mean grim-faced criminals and a chain-smoking Foster. This might be too nihilistic even for me. Cast includes Jeff Goldblum, Zachary Quinto and Sterling K. Brown.

Hereditary. Grandma was bonkers, Mom is barely holding it together after Grandma’s death and Daughter is… possessed? Are we talking ghosts? Demons? Madness passed down from generation to generation? Rotten Tomatoes gives it 93 percent.

 

Continuing:

I’m not going to give it a full review, but I was dragged kicking and screaming to Upgrade and it was not nearly as bad as I was anticipating. I expected a bloody, awful, wish-fulfillment revenge-fantasy mess, and I only got part of that. The lead actor was surprisingly nuanced in his portrayal, and while I saw the twist coming a mile and a half away and there were few surprises, it was significantly more entertaining than I expected. Honestly, if it had tamed down some of the gore-for-gore’s-sake and delved a little further into the issues around bioengineering that it briefly raises, it might have been a truly good sci-fi thriller.

Also continuing: Deadpool 2, Adrift, Avengers: Infinity War, Book Club, SOLO, Life of the Party, Breaking In, Overboard.


Linkspam applies for secretary of the week

Once again I am forced to recant my opposition to remakes and reboots. Some have gone horribly wrong (Roseanne) while others have failed to annoy us (Will & Grace, by all reports).

But they’re bringing back Murphy Brown. Line up the secretaries!

The trailer is hilarious, though sadly missing Charles Kimbrough as the stolid Jim Dial, leading to speculation whether the 81-year-old actor is up to a recurring appearance. Everyone else is on board, even ditzy Corky (who now looks like a goddamn genius compared to some of the yahoos in the real world). Missing in action, of course, will be Eldin the eternal handyman, as Robert Pastorelli died of an overdose many years ago.

I adored Murphy Brown, both for Candice Bergen’s sharp wit and its unerring ability to take aim at the times without downgrading our intelligence or disrespecting the profession even as it parodies it. Everyone brings up the Dan Quayle business, but in reality, the fun was in watching Murphy tilt at the windmill of political stupidity over and over, never failing in her dedication.

Oh, do we need Murphy now. Anyone want to take bets on how long it takes for Murphy to get banned from the current White House? She’s got a tradition to uphold, after all.

• Today in Sexual Harassment News: Morgan Freeman may be a perv (dammit), George Takei isn’t, and Harvey Weinstein is finally arrested.

• Did you enjoy Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s royal wedding sermon? Or the SNL skit ribbing him? So did he.

• The internet was abuzz that Bohemian Rhapsody, the upcoming biopic of Queen and specifically Freddie Mercury, was planning to straightwash Mercury’s bisexuality and his death from AIDS. Personally I don’t see it from the initial trailer, and the accusations of such from writer-producer Bryan Fuller seemed clearly aimed at the trailer, not at the film. Here, judge for yourself. Hopefully they’re not that stupid, and as many have opined, two surviving Queen members are on the production team, and it seems unlikely they would so disrespect their friend’s memory.

• Are you considering taking the kids to see Show Dogs? According to some, you should rethink this. A running gag about the lead dog having to put up with having his private parts fondled hits some very uncomfortable notes regarding grooming, bodily autonomy and reinforcing dangerous messages for kids. I thought at first it was hysteria, but when I read the recap… yeah, that does not sound cool.

• I could have a total geekout about all the awesome things coming to Disney World apart from Star Wars Land, or I could just share this rundown and go back to running price checks on how much it would cost to go back. #happiestplaceonearth #waitthat’sanaheim

• Enjoying summer? Already trying to figure out how to keep the kids from wrecking the house? Here’s a rundown (for locals) of all the nifty free things to do with kids this summer.

An intelligent discussion on the internet - stay with me here - about issues women face in writing and publishing that are not typically experienced by men. Disclosure: I’m one of the women. Another interesting discussion: Antiheroes, heroes and heroic fiction in modern times.

• Dork out! The annual tradition of crossing over one mega-story from Arrow, Flash, Legends of Tomorrow and Supergirl will move to Gotham City for Batwoman to show up! Usually I am at best neutral about the crossovers, since I only watch Supergirl and am hopelessly lost in the soap-opera worlds of the other shows (and I always want to slap Oliver silly). Also, this crossover crap is why I stopped buying issue comics. I don’t want to have to follow 27 books just to figure out what the hell is going on in the book I’m reading. But… Batwoman!

(Speaking of comics, Seanan McGuire is writing an issue of X-MEN. In case your day wasn’t cool enough yet.)

• Hey, remember that idiot who trademarked the word “cocky” and earned the ire of ever romance author in the United States? Someone looked at that and thought, “Hey, nifty idea!” Only they’re trying to trademark “forever.” RWA is fighting it, but they shouldn’t be alone: this crap affects every genre. It’s since been withdrawn, but the issue continues.

 

RIP

Clint Walker, 90, best known for roles in Cheyenne, The Dirty Dozen and The Ten Commandments. Raised in Belleville, he was working as a sheriff’s deputy and bouncer in Las Vegas when he met with Cecil B. DeMille and got himself an acting career.

Tom Wolfe, iconic “new journalist” and author, at age 88.  Titles such as The Right Stuff, Bonfire of thee Vanities and A Man in Full made him famous (and a target for notorious crankypants Norman Mailer).

Philip Roth, 85, comic novelist famous for The Human Stain, Everyman and Goodbye Columbus, among many others. The New York Times called him the last of the “great white males,” along with Bellow and Updike.

Jose Lavat, narrator of Dragon Ball Z as well as many other titles.

 

Trailer Park

• Oh bother. Christopher Robin needs help from his friends in the Hundred Acre Wood. Just cue up the hankies. (Warning: this trailer is one of those that tells the whole goddamn story in 2.5 minutes, but it’s worth it to hear Pooh’s voice.)

 

Coming This Weekend

Solo. You might have heard about this one. I think it’s about a pilot or something.

Mary Shelley, a biopic of the Frankenstein author who spent much of the rest of her life a) trying to recapture the stark brilliance of her first novel and b) convincing asshats that her husband didn’t write it. Please, people. Did you ever READ Percy Shelley?

The Misandrists. Just… no.

 

Continuing:

Deadpool 2, Avengers: Infinity War, Book Club, Life of the Party, Breaking In, Show Dogs, Overboard, A Quiet Place, Rampage, Super Troopers 2.

 

Loislegs

And finally…. She deserved her own entry. Margot Kidder, who embodied Lois Lane for me in the Christopher Reeve movies, died on May 14 at age 69.

She's best known as Lois, of course, and brought a strength and smarts to a role that often was written as "must be rescued by Superman." Was her famous "interview" scene with Superman actually a shining example of a professional journalist? Oh, hell no. But she still sold it to us, made us care about Lois and her abrasive, gung-ho charm despite her required swoons. That was Kidder, and she brought a vulnerability and simultaneous steel to Lois that has not been matched before or since.

I was honored enough to meet her several years ago at a convention, and I was wearing my hip skirt with the jingly ornaments on it. She asked me to stop and show her the skirt, and I wiggled my hips to make them dance, and she laughed uproariously. I made Lois Lane laugh, and it goes on my life list of accomplishments. To this day I regret that I didn't get a picture with her.

Others have detailed her life, her struggles and work far better than I could, far beyond the confines of Lois’ pencil skirts into horror, comedy, television, any genre she chose - and her famous battles with bipolar disorder. She cracked me up, she made me cry. Now she soars among the skies, and we are the poorer for her loss.

 


Linkspam watches the bloodbath

Watch as so many of your favorite characters fade away to dust... 

No, I am not reviewing Infinity War. Ha ha. Gotcha. It should be apparent to those of you who read this column regularly (all six of you) that I don't often review the giant blockbusters. The fact is, the incessant yammering and Monday-morning quarterbacking on Avengers and The Last Jedi and other giant tentpole pictures pretty much renders my opinion moot. 

Besides, I'm not up for y'all screaming at me. I get enough of that at Ye Olde Day Job.

No, I'm talking about the mass bloodlettings that were the show cancellations this week. Yowsa, hope you hadn't gotten too attached to some (many?) of the shows floating around the networks, because it's the freaking Red Wedding here. 

Among the cancelled:

• Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Mourned by many, including a protest thread by Samwise Gangee - I mean, Sean Astin.

Marvel's Inhumans.

• Designated Survivor. I wanted to love this show, as a post-apocalyptic West Wing. But it was so unrelentingly dour, and the end of the world shouldn't be a delight, but every once in a while Our Heroes need to win something. They always lost, and the bad guys always won, and it just got to be too dull and disheartening. The key to "ordinary man accidentally ends up in charge" is that his inherent honesty and integrity eventually wins out, from Mr. Smith Goes to Washington to Dave to President Josiah Bartlet (though he wasn't exactly ordinary). The plot of "ordinary man becomes president, everyone hates him and he gets nothing done" was a little too depressing. Apparently the viewers agreed.

The Exorcist.

• Lucifer. (Unrelated to the prior cancellation, we presume.)

• Once Upon a Time. I mean, that's not really fair; they're heading to their big series finale, it's not like they got the rug pulled out from under them. It's that show everyone loves that I never got around to watching, and once it's done, I guess I'll take a poll on whether it's worth catching the reruns?

• QuanticoSadly, I am unsurprised; I loved the first season, but the second season played like Heroes with a swift dive in quality, and apparently the third season has reached new lows in the ratings.

• The X-Files - again. (Then again, it will probably rise again, like its characters.)

• The Night Shift. Or is it? I heard it was cancelled in the fall, then someone said it got picked up after all, now they're saying cancelled again. I actually rather liked this show, but lost track of it a few years ago.

And yet Tim Allen's annoying Last Man Standing, AP Bio, and the Santa Clarita Diet live to fight. Still waiting to hear: Criminal Minds and other fine shows from CBS, which currently houses several of my favorites (don't let me down, Madam Secretary!) 

The Nobel Prize in Literature will not be awarded this year for only the second time since 1901. The reason? A powerful asshole harassed and assaulted women, and the organization allegedly did nothing. Organizers believe they need to get their gold-plated house in order before returning to awarding two prizes next year. The L.A. Times goes into detail why this is the wrong approach; the Washington Post disagrees

• Speaking of awards: The Tony nominations are here! Wait a minute... three of the four musical nominees began as movies. Now, I loved Frozen (Mean Girls and Spongebob not so much, and yet they are tied for the most nominations), but really, Broadway? There are actual playwrights doing actual writing, maybe we don't need to rely so heavily on Hollywood. Let's look at the non-musicals, surely... Harry Potter. Okay fine. Here's the list!

• Also in the category awards, the Locus Award finalists have been announced. They include John Scalzi, Jeff Vandermeer, Elizabeth Bear, N.K. Jemisin, Kit Reed, Peter S. Beagle, Seanan McGuire, Mary Robinette Kowal, Tobias Buckell, Ellen Datlow, Gardner Dozois, Joe Hill, Neil Gaiman, Catherynne Valente, and many others. 

Bill Cosby and Roman Polanski have been expelled from the Academy. Cosby, at least, has bigger problems right now. Polanski plans to sue. Planning to appear in court, Roman? 

• Cinema St. Louis is now accepting submissions for the 2018 Whitaker St. Louis Filmmakers Showcase. The Showcase screens works that were written, directed, edited, or produced by St. Louis natives, or films with strong local ties. The 16 film programs that will screen from July 13-22 serve as the Showcase’s centerpiece, ranging from full-length fiction features and documentaries to multi-film compilations of fiction and documentary shorts. The 2018 event will take place over 2 consecutive weekends in mid-July at Washington University

• Speaking of film… can you make a movie in 48 hours? Filmmakers from all over the St. Louis area will compete to see who can make the best short film June 1-3. The winning film will go up against films from around the world at Filmapalooza 2019 for a chance at the grand prize and an opportunity to screen at the Cannes Film Festival 2019 Short Film Corner. Early Bird discounted registration ends May 7.

• Also speaking of film… the 23rd Annual St. Louis Jewish Film Festival opens Sunday, June 3. Offerings include Heading Home: The Tale of Team Israel which follows Israel’s underdog national baseball team competing in the World Baseball Classic for the first time; Maktub, an Israeli comedy about criminals who survive a terrorist attack and vow to change their ways; a documentary about Sammy Davis Jr. titled I’ve Gotta Be Me; and much more. All films will screen at Frontenac Cinema, with varying prices. Find out more at the festival’s website.

 

Trailer Park

• Predator, another reboot. Will it be the surprisingly-effective Predators, sans movie boyfriend Adrien Brody, or will it be AvP II, which I am sorry to say I paid actual American dollars to see in the theater?

• I usually stick to film trailers in this section, but the Luke Cage trailer is so awesome it needs a link.

• I'm all for another Robin Hood movie - I watch them all like a sad fangirl - but this one looks to have all the brains of a Michael Bay fan film and all the heart of ... I honestly can't think of anything as humorless and dull as this trailer. Please be better.

 

Coming This Weekend

• Life of the Party. You know, an empowering female comedy about a divorced, overweight woman finding herself in college would have been terrific. Instead we get this. Melissa McCarthy, we know you can do better.

• Breaking In. Again, with actresses who can do better... Gabrielle Union graduates to the Mom Level, with what looks to be an utterly pedestrian thriller plot fighting against bad guys threatening her kids, cynically released for Mother's Day. 

 

Continuing:

Avengers: Infinity War; Overboard; A Quiet Place; Rampage; Tully; Black Panther; I Feel Pretty; Truth or Dare; Super Troopers 2; Blockers.

And Bad Samaritan, which I caught last weekend and surprised me by not sucking. Of course, I could watch David Tennant read the phone books - and he's done such marvelous villains since graduating from Doctor School. Most of these stock thrillers depend on the main character doing horribly stupid things that make you want to slap him, but in this case, the lead was charming and likable, not overly dumb, and the mistakes he makes are understandable mistakes. The movie also takes an extra step to build realistic backgrounds for tertiary characters, with personalities approaching three dimensions. It was tense enough that I didn't want to miss a moment to go for a soda, and I'd definitely watch it again.

 

Happy Mother's Day!


Linkspam hears the verdict

Unless you were living under a rock this week, you know that Bill Cosby was convicted on three counts of sexual assault Thursday.

Ever since this began, it seems my entire generation has struggled to reconcile our memory of the friendly, sweater-wearing Cliff Huxtable and the funnyman who voiced Fat Albert and sold pudding pops with the predator described in court. The impact seems to be twice as harsh for African-Americans who grew up watching The Cosby Show and A Different World, who saw positive reflections of middle- and upper-class black America presented on a national stage for the first time.

Some lamented that this seminal work is now tainted forever with Cosby's sins. And I am never going to be That Person and tell the black community what to think or how to feel. It’s not my place.

But I do think this is going to be one of the great struggles for us as a society, as social media now puts us in closer contact with the people we have previously idolized: how to separate art from artist. One nasty tweet can reveal that an artist we loved is actually a racist, or misogynist, or simply clueless and rude. We’ve gone through it many times, with allegations against Woody Allen and Kevin Spacey and so, so many others, going back to Orson Scott Card and before. How can we separate the person from the work? And is it fair to do so?

I know the choice I make: to try to separate art from artist up to the point that the artist’s malfeasance or problematic beliefs infects the art. But I also try to pay attention to the financial impact of my consumption of art, to ensure that little to none of my money goes to support causes I would stand against. That means, for example, if I simply must read a book from an author who espouses hateful homophobia, I can always get it from the library without giving him my money.

Can we really say that we should throw out The Cosby Show and A Different World because Cosby was a criminal? (Good luck finding either on streaming services, by the way.) There were so many artists who worked on those shows, writers and actors who did good work that deserves to be remembered. It wasn’t just cheap laughs that entertained us; it made us think, in ways that the modern sitcom often avoids, and busted stereotypes that go back decades.

It would be a sad thing for our collective culture if the fine work of so many people disappeared or was disparaged and dismissed because the lead actor was a criminal. The legacy of those shows does not belong to Cosby alone.

EDIT: A little birdie has informed me that you can find A Different World streaming on Amazon Prime.

• Speaking of artists doing very bad things… Smallville actress Allison Mack has been charged in the ongoing NXIVM sex cult weirdness. Mack is accused of assisting group leader Keith Raniere with coercing and enslaving unwilling women into the cult and forcing them to have sex with Raniere. As many as 50 women are alleged to be victims of the cult.

• Winter is not coming…. George R.R. Martin says The Winds of Winter will not be published in 2018. There hasn’t been a new Ice and Fire novel since 2011. Instead, there will be a 1,000-page history of the kings of Westeros, coming out in November. The fictional history has been compared by some as Martin’s Simarillion. Meanwhile, HBO is considering three to five possible spinoffs. Yikes.

• The first St. Louis Science Fiction and Fantasy Short Film Festival will take place at First Friday in May at the St. Louis Science Center. Attendees will be able to learn about cinematography, special effects, editing, directing, lighting, costuming and set design as well as screening the various short films. As it will be May the Fourth (be with you), the Planetarium will celebrate Star Wars Day. Finishing up with a screening of Ed Wood in the Planetarium, I’m really wishing I were off work.

• Ever since I saw this sillyMarvel Bunch” video, this song has been stuck in my head, so I gift it to you and you can have it stuck in your head. (Chris Evans, we gotta talk about the 'stache.) I think those guys have a movie coming out, have you heard anything?

Hamilton may be gone (don’t worry, it’ll be back) but there’s still theater in St. Louis! Highlights this week include The Dresser by Gaslight Theater, Falling by Bankside Reperatory Theater Company, The Fantasticks by the Hawthorne Players, and Jesus Christ Superstar by Stray Dog Theater.

• In case you were worried that you weren’t giving enough money to Amazon, they’re now raising the price of Amazon Prime from $99 to $119. The change goes into effect May 11 and will apply to renewals beginning June 16. Amazon has had cost increases, they say. Sign on the dotted line if you feel sorry for them.

• Locals: Afterwords Books in Edwardsville celebrates its ninth anniversary on Saturday, May 12! Drop by for baked goodies, a 20-percentn discount, storytime and a drawing for a $50 gift card. Congrats to one of the hidden jewels of Edwardsville!

• Is Thursday really Alien Day? Is that a real thing? Twitter thinks so.

• A recent study in the journal PLOS One found that authors with female names were paid 9 percent less than authors with male names; female-dominated genres such as romand are thought of with less value; and there are gender differences in the prices of books within the same genre. Who’s surprised?

• You could fill a whole column with the latest in WTF is Next for Star Trek, but this latest one is interesting. S.J Clarkson has been tapped for the next movie, which makes her the first female director in the franchise. Side-eye that it took that long, but if you’re hoping to find out what movie they’re doing… is it the flashback movie with Chris Hemsworth as George Kirk? Is it that weird-ass idea of letting Quentin Tarantino direct a Star Trek movie? Is it Prime Universe or Abramsverse? Stay tuned.

• You know what Hollywood thinks needs a sequel? If you answered A Quiet Place, you’re right. Not sure if Paramount is right, since the movie was one of those experiences that really works and would be hard to recapture. But that isn’t stopping them

 

RIP

• Bob Dorough, creator of Schoolhouse Rock, age 94. Sing along with “Conjunction Junction” and “I’m Just a Bill,” songs by Dorough the jazz pianist and vocalist. He was first hired by an ad exec to write a song to help his kids learn their times tables. The rest is television history.

Arthur Rubenstein, 80, movie composer who worked on more than 300 films and television programs. His music direction could be heard on Broadway in A Chorus Line, Jesus Christ Superstar, Evita and more. You’ve heard his scores in Wargames, Lost in America, Blue Thunder, Nick of Time and many other movies, frequently working with John Badham. He founded a symphony that presented more than 60 free classical concerts to 80,000 families and children. His composition “Observations” was performed at the Griffith Observatory in honor of the 400th anniversary of Galileo’s achievements.

 

Trailer Park

Jurassic World, which doesn’t look any less sexist or annoying, but I applaud Chris Pratt for his multi-tasking this year (although his Star-Lord and Owen the Raptor Whisperer appear to be roughly the same guy).

Kin, with Dennis Quaid and a young kid in a dystopian future, whose older brother just got back out of prison and is already getting back in trouble. Enter an alien body, funky ray guns, and wackiness ensues. It’s an interesting setup, but could someone turn on the lights? You can be grimdark and still light the set.

Deadpool 2, and I couldn’t get the silly thing to run, but given how I usually feel about Deadpool humor, it’s probably best. (In all fairness, I didn’t see the first one. But the menfolk did, and assured me that they found it hilarious and I would absolutely hate it. I trust their judgement.)

• In a completely different vein…. The Tale, pending from HBO and starring Laura Dern as a documentarian whose mother finds a short story she had written as a child that exposes long-buried secrets. Also starring Ellen Burstyn, John Heard (RIP), Jason Ritter and Isabelle Nelisse.

• Curious about the new Venom movie? Have a trailer that actually shows some plot! Tom Hardy plays a reporter who gets infected with the Venom symbiote, and who may or may not be an unethical turd. Can Marvel manage to produce one journalist who is competent, dedicated and ethical? We’ll see, but I’m not holding out hope.

 

Coming This Weekend

Avengers: Infinity War. You might heard a little something about it.

• Foolish enough to actually premiere the same weekend: Kings, about a foster family in South Central Los Angeles right before the Rodney King riots; and Disobedience, a starcrossed love story between two women in a conservative Jewish society. (Technically it premiered last year, starring Rachel Weisz and Rachel McAdams; this is its wide U.S. release.)

 

Continuing:

I Feel Pretty, Super Troopers 2, Traffik, Rampage, Truth or Dare, Isle of Dogs, Blockers, A Quiet Place, Ready Player One, A Wrinkle in Time, Pacific Rim Uprising, Acrimony, I Can Only Imagine, Love Simon, Sherlock Gnomes, Chappaquiddick, and The Miracle Season. And probably BLACK PANTHER.

 

Avengers assemble!