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Monday Linkspam

• A Marvel editor was harassed online because she dared to post a selfie of herself and several coworkers grabbing milkshakes. This led to verbal abuse, being blamed for all of Marvel’s financial woes, complaints about “fake geek girls” (hey dicks, they WORK FOR MARVEL unlike you) and, of course, the requisite sexual innuendos and rape threats. This is why we can’t have nice things.

• Speaking of Marvel, here’s why Agent Carter was cancelled. And it was a stupid reason. However, the linked story reminds us that in comics, nobody dies forever. As I said elsewhere, I don’t care if we have to use the Nullifier balanced on the Silver Surfer’s board powered by Iron Man’s arc reactor to bring her back, I want more Peggy.

• Nicholas Meyer is apparently working on a miniseries about Khan Noonien Singh. Few details seem to be available, except that it’s a prequel limited series on Ceti Alpha V between “Space Seed” and the events of Wrath of Khan. There have been a few books about this time, of course, but the movies and TV shows seem to ignore the rich complexity of the tie-in novels. I’ve always thought Imzadi by Peter David would make a hell of a movie, as would Strangers from the Sky by Margaret Wander Bonanno or Final Frontier and Best Destiny by Diane Carey. I can tell you that Julia Ecklar’s The Kobayashi Maru does a far better job with that backstory than AbramsTrek ever could.

• Congratulations to the finalists for the World Fantasy Awards, which will be presented in November.

• Confession: In junior high, I read Sweet Valley High books. I thought that was what high school might be like. Now there’s going to be a movie. This could be quite awful, or it could be awesome: writer Kirsten Smith wrote 10 Things I Hate About You, a charming adaptation of Taming of the Shrew for ‘90s teens, and I loved it in spite of myself. We shall file this under Please Don’t Suck.

The latest from the set of Star Trek Discovery is that they inexplicably have outlawed the word “God.” Gene Roddenberry’s atheism was apparent in his worldbuilding and as a constant theme in the early episodes, but as this piece points out, colloquial language is not the same as magically resurrecting Christianity in the 22nd century. As for “No one says God in space,” that would be a shock to Dr. McCoy, whose second-most-common phrase was, “For God’s sake, man!” (Usually directed at Spock.) P.S. I agree with The Mary Sue: the best Trek - by a nose - is Deep Space Nine, which dealt directly with religion as a recurring theme, both for good and for ill. There are good stories and important allegories to be found in this subject.

• Apparently there was a major death on Game of Thrones this week. Don’t click on the link unless you’re ready to be spoiled. (I don’t watch, so it didn’t bother me.)

Marlee Matlin joins Quantico in its third season as a former FBI agent deafened by a bomb. Quantico has a new showrunner as well, which intrigues me into considering returning. I loved the first season, but only made it a few episodes into season two before I was bored senseless.

RIP Jeanne Moreau, described by AP as the “femme fatale of the French New Wave” or more succinctly, “the French Bette Davis.” Moreau’s career began in the 1960s and extended into her sunset years, with more than 100 films and an honorary Oscar in 1998.

RIP Granny - I mean, June Foray, voice of Rocky the Flying Squirrel, Witch Hazel, Cindy Lou Who and, of course, Granny. Foray was “the first lady of voice acting” and helped create the Annie Awards and the animated-feature Oscar.

• Dammit dammit dammit, RIP Sam Shepard, one of the true greats of both stage and screen. Shepard was a Pulitzer-Prize-winning playwright who was also a talented and nuanced actor. He brought solid gravitas to roles in serious films like Blackhawk Down, The Pelican Brief and The Right Stuff (for which he was nominated for an Oscar), fun films like Steel Magnolias, and even tripe like The Notebook, which was greatly improved by his presence. Read Variety’s obituary for an in-depth appreciation of the two sides of Shepard’s career. I’m truly heartsick by his loss, since even at 73, he could still produce art. We are all the lesser for his death.

I hate endings. Just detest them. Beginnings are definitely the most exciting, middles are perplexing and endings are a disaster. … The temptation towards resolution, towards wrapping up the package, seems to me a terrible trap. Why not be more honest with the moment? The most authentic endings are the ones which are already revolving towards another beginning. That’s genius.” — Sam Shepard

 

Trailer Park:

• A longer trailer for IT is up, with more hints at changes from the original story, heightened creepiness and some jump scares. One more for the category of Please Don't Suck...

Anna Paquin stars in the new series Bellevue, a town with secrets - and problems. Paquin plays a detective struggling to solve a missing-child case with ties to the past. Check out the teaser here.

• Overpopulation means a one-child policy worldwide, like China’s. Only a family with seven identical daughters decides to hide, and they take turns being their one identity in public. Until someone catches on…. Noomi Rapace plays all seven in this Netflix series, What Happened to Monday.

• You knew they were remaking Flatliners, right? That movie is one of my all-time guilty pleasures, and I’m not too sure about recapturing that lightning in a bottle with fancier effects. However, the director was responsible for the original Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, so let’s see…

• American Horror Story is going to tackle politics in its next weird-ass season, titled Cult. I gave up on AHS a few seasons ago, and hadn’t heard much buzz about last season’s Roanoke. I haven’t decided if I will give it another go… Teaser and details (kinda) are here.

• Final trailer for Detroit is even more intense than the last two, which takes some doing. I know everyone’s about Dunkirk these days, but this is the history that I’m waiting to see on the big screen.

 


Monday Linkspam

Polygon.com has the best analysis so far of why Wonder Woman is the best and most popular of the DCEU films, and it isn’t because Gal Gadot looks awesome in the leather swimsuit. Or even because she’s a kickass woman in a central role. (Side note: let’s quit with the damn memes arguing “Well, she wasn’t the FIRST…” Duh. We all know that. In the modern comic-film renaissance, there’s been a striking lack of female leads and you all know it, so stop undercutting it with pictures of 1990s Buffy and her lollipop.)

Instead, Polygon makes the point I’ve tried to make about the dour and ultimately head-scratching DCEU films so far: “Man of Steel, Batman vs. Superman and Suicide Squad all espouse a fundamentally selfish worldview - where heroism is a test of self, not a service performed for other people.” It also details that this is the Zack Snyder viewpoint, he whose next project is rumored to be Atlas Shrugged: it is the Watchmen-like vision that distrusts selflessness, that argues coercion is more reliable than altruism.

When Christopher Reeve’s Superman is faced with General Zod hurting innocent bystanders and causing destruction on the streets of Metropolis, he fled to the Fortress of Solitude to draw Zod away from collateral damage - allowing people to think him a coward rather than risk innocents being hurt. When Snyder’s Superman faces the same situation, he doesn’t even seem to care, and the general public is seen as either hating the superheroes (out of jealousy, apparently) or worshipping him because he’s so superior to us.

That’s direct opposition to Diana, who presumes from the beginning that people are naturally good and compassionate, if only permitted the freedom to be so. Her heroism leads by example; she inspires ordinary humans to heroic acts. It’s worth noting that the best of the preceding DC films was The Dark Knight, which had the same damn premise. The Joker places his faith on human selfishness and depravity… and loses. Because in the end, humans were fundamentally decent, and his Randian nihilism fails. (Then the last Christopher Nolan movie threw that whole concept out the window, which is why I declare it doesn’t exist.)

I really don’t need to write a separate review of Wonder Woman at this point, though it will be part of my summer movie roundup. These pieces I’ve linked the past few weeks, and especially Polygon’s, say everything I wanted to say.

Star Trek Discovery sets its release date for Sept. 24! Wait, you mean I’ve subscribed to CBS Go all this time for nothing? (Not really, it still saves me buying whole seasons on iTunes for Criminal Minds and Madam Secretary. Ah, the trials of a streamer.) As announced previously, it will premiere on CBS broadcast that Sunday night, with the second episode immediately available on CBS All Access and weekly on Sundays thereafter. The 15-episode season will be separated into two chapters: the first eight episodes in the fall, seven more in the spring. Netflix will carry it, but only to countries outside U.S. and Canada. In the meantime, check out some early art and trailers. Repeat after me: Please don’t suck please don’t suck please don’t suck please don’t suck…

In other Trek news, last week was Captain Picard Day, a holiday I might have celebrated with its own special post if the Real World Job had not been kicking our butts all over the internet last week. Good lord, I miss having a captain who can help us think about the human experience with his perfect delivery (and good writing). “Starfleet was founded to seek out new life, well, there it sits!” SyFyLys comes up with the more bizarre heroics of everyone’s favorite captain, while I prefer the entirety of “Measure of a Man,” folks. Go on, go watch it.

“Jean-Luc, sometimes I think the only reason I come here is to hear these wonderful speeches of yours.”

• Jezebel amuses the hell out of me by detailing the many ways shark movies get nature and basic physics wrong. Go Bruce! We were thinking of seeing 47 Meters Down, just for giggles, but plans changed. Anyone seen it and want to report? (And no, it won’t be as good as Jaws, because nothing ever is…)

• io9 puts together a decent list of science fiction and fantasy novels that changed speculative fiction forever. Of course it’s missing plenty of important books, including 1984, The Mists of Avalon, freaking Frankenstein…. I’d definitely argue that Ms. Shelley’s masterpiece should be included in place of Dhalgren for sheer influence. There are nearly 1200 comments at press time, so I’m guessing others had a few suggestions. #geekfight

• Happy (belated) Father’s Day to the geeky dads out there! Here’s a collection of writer-dads and their offspring from the Los Angeles Times, including Stephen King and Joe Hill reading each others’ books. Hee. Hail to the Kings!

Kings

• This weekend’s movie outings were The Mummy and Cars 3. Shorthand: One is much more entertaining and charming than the other, and you can guess.

Look, Mummy is not nearly as bad as its Rotten Tomatoes score would suggest. I have suffered through much worse. I went into it expecting it to be awful, and already saddened about it because I was very excited about the Dark Universe franchise. It’s not awful, but it’s not great, either. Tom Cruise is in a role that needs to be charming to make up for the (script-required) amorality, and since he made his bones playing charming rakes, it’s odd that he utterly lacks charm here.

Other critics complained that it spent too much time setting up the Dark Universe; to me, that was the most fun. Russell Crowe as Jekyll/Hyde is pretty fun to watch, and it’s almost a disappointment when the mummy sidekicks show up, because they owe a lot more to The Walking Dead than Boris Karloff. There’s a cute shout-out to the Fraser/Weisz Mummy movies - blink and you miss it - and we had a big laugh and fistbump over it. But even that was almost a mistake, because it was simply a quick reminder that those movies were so much more fun than these.

The Mummy was a movie that could not decide whether it was a horror movie with action scenes, or an action movie with creepiness. Unfortunately, in trying to straddle the line between them, it failed at both. And yet I’d still rather watch it three times over before watching The Mummy 3, which does not exist.

On the other side, we have Cars 3, to which I was dragged kicking and screaming because CultureGeek Jr. is a huge Cars fan and was on furlough for the day. I don’t care for car racing in general, the first Cars movie was rather annoying to me, and I never saw the second for that reason.

Fortunately Cars 3 ignores the generally-disliked second installment altogether - even CultureGeek Jr. admits it was awful - and delivers a charming, entertaining film that actually had me laughing in several places. Nathan Fillion joins the cast as the new CEO of whoever owns Lightning (Owen Wilson) McQueen’s career, and there’s a good bit of nostalgia and sadness over the loss of the late Paul Newman in mourning for “Doc” Hudson.

Better yet, for the generally male-inclined Pixar films, a secondary female character takes center stage, and it’s a good bit of awesome. The “old” jokes might feel a bit weird when aimed at Wilson’s McQueen, since cars don’t exactly age and Wilson is all of 48. The ending is a nice twist, and while I saw it coming, it will be appreciated by the younger folk. Here’s a spoilery interview with Wilson; full of background but very spoilerrific, so be sure to read only after you go see it.

Which you should. Even if (like me) you are only a tepid Cars or Pixar watcher, if nothing else Cars 3 shows the massive gains made in Pixar’s animation. The visuals are striking - not just the races, but countryside scenes, backgrounds, scenic vistas… when none of the cars’ cartoon faces are talking, it’s easy to forget that this is an animated film. There's a level of detail unimagined when Pixar first started making movies, and that was my primary reservation about Pixar vs. Disney's own animated features; Pixar's visuals just weren't as interesting to me, up until Brave. Cars 3 takes it another step, folks. It's that good.

Alas, it looks like they may do a Cars 4. Unfortunately Hollywood doesn’t seem to know how to quit when they’re ahead.

Meanwhile, the previews included Pixar’s Coco, which also had a full-length trailer for a holiday Frozen short. We usually don’t get trailers for the pre-movie shorts, and yes, Frozen writes its own rules, but it hints at a bit of Pixar hedging its bets - underscores heavily that the Frozen short will only be offered at Coco screenings. This was the first Coco trailer that really made me interested in seeing it, so I hope they are wrong about its potential.

RIP to Stephen Furst, best known for Animal House, Babylon 5 and St. Elsewhere; and to John G. Avildsen, director of Rocky, Lean on Me and the original Karate Kid movies. Sadly, we finally have some answers on Carrie Fisher’s death, and it seems her sobriety had faltered, but it may not have contributed to her death from sleep apnea-induced heart attack, if I’m understanding it correctly. Rest in peace, dear; you’re still our princess.

On the local scene...

• I'm happy to report that A Winter's Tale is a terrific outing for the always-stellar Shakespeare St. Louis, despite being one of the Bard's lesser efforts. It falls victim to the two great sins of Shakespeare as viewed through modern audiences: the "Shakespearean filler," in which we get long scenes of a side character being silly to pad out the run time while the other actors are getting ready backstage; and of minor characters excitedly discussing something important that happened offstage. I'm not going to criticize the writing of William Shakespeare 500 years later, but both of those stumbling blocks occur in A Winter's Tale. And yet it doesn't drag down the show; which is not the easiest to comprehend or the most popular of Shakespeare's plays.

Best of all, however, are the performances turned in by Rachel Christopher as Paulina and Cherie Corinne Rice as Queen Hermione. Both simply burn down the stage with their intensity in what is a very off-kilter play - neither full tragedy nor full comedy, but aspects of each. Christopher in particular is amazing as she faces down a king who has gone mad with jealousy and destroyed his family, and without fear she tells him the truth while all the men are cringing and cajoling. Rice portrays the queen with dignity and grace, while standing firm against injustice. But as I look back on it, it's Christopher who shines. She's had a few minor roles in motion pictures; here's hoping we see more of her beyond Shakespeare Glen. 

A Winter's Tale is performed nightly in Forest Park through June 25, except Tuesdays. 


Thursday Linkspam

• A bunch of Disney flicks got their release dates, including a pushback for Indiana Jones 5: The Apology. Star Wars: The Last Jedi is a December release this year, just as Force Awakens was, but the as-yet untitled Episode IX will be a May 2019 release, rather than sticking with the Christmas plan. That’s probably because Frozen 2 comes out that Christmas, and Disney doesn’t like to fight itself. (Please, Disney. We’re gonna go see both anyway. You have us.)

James Cameron’s Avatar 2 will come out in December 2020, with three more movies slated for 2021, 2024 and 2025. Somewhere in there he hopefully hired a screenwriter. In the meantime, Indiana 5 is moved from July 2019 to July 2020, just in time for poor Harrison Ford to turn 80. Also in 2019: the Lion King remake, Toy Story 4 and Avengers: Infinity War Part II, so just sign your soul over to Disney now. (They’ve had mine for years… crunchy.)

• Tor.com is offering a neat incentive to sign up for their eBook of the Month Club: A free ebook of John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War. The club is free, and you get a free book every month. So far I see no downside!

• Tracy K. Smith is the new poet laureate of the United States, the highest honor held by poets in the nation. Smith has 30 years of poetry publications and a Pulitzer Prize. She plans to be a “literary evangelist,’ taking poetry to places “where literary festivals don’t always go.” She is also director of the creative writing program at Princeton University.

The Dining Room was one of my favorite plays back when I was a struggling actress in Memphis. The playwright, A.R. Gurney, was a finalist for the Pulitzer for that one and two others - I always wanted to see Love Letters become a movie. Yes, he wrote about upper-class WASPs, because he wrote what he knew - but he told it with truth. Sadly, Gurney passed away this week. The stage lights are a little dimmer for his loss.

• RIP to one of the more famous bookstores in the country. Berkeley science fiction bookstore Dark Carnival will close its doors soon, and has launched its going-out-of-business sale.

• Variety has some theories about The Mummy’s troubles, and they start with two words: Tom Cruise. Not that he’s a bad actor (he’s not) or that the film was a bad idea (more debatable), but that he had a personal control over nearly everything from script to marketing. “There were differences of opinions about whether Cruise’s directions were improving a picture that had been troubled from its inception or whether they were turning a horror film into a Cruise informercial.” It has not yet been viewed here at CultureGeek Towers, so I’ll let you know…

The-mummy
Wait... sorry. This is the fun one. My mistake.

• In the Cool Stuff category, a photographer picked up a 1938 camera at Goodwill that still had a roll of undeveloped film inside. She had them developed, and found images of the 1980 explosion of Mt. St. Helens.

• Trailer Park: Goodbye Christopher Robin is a biopic of A.A. Milne and his young son who inspired the books of Winnie the Pooh. Flatliners gets a remake, which will have a long way to go before it matches the creepy-dark fun of the original. A documentary titled Nobody Speak examines the attacks on the press over the last few years, and hits Netflix in a week.

• For a little silliness, check out the trash-talking Twitter battle between Sue the T.rex at the Chicago Field Museum and the Merriam-Webster dictionary. I can’t make this stuff up.

 

On the local scene…

• Dunaway Books on Grand Boulevard will host “An Evening of Wine and Poetry” featuring local writers like Grace McGinnis, Hart L’Ecuyer and RC Patterson for a series of readings beginning at 8 p.m. Sunday. Admission is free.

• The Glen Carbon Public Library will host “Writing Your Breakout Book” at 6:30 p.m. Monday, June 19, presented by Rod Deutschmann of Outreach SIUE. Click the link to register.

• Insight Theater Company has opened its season with Next to Normal, a powerful and intense rock musical I was lucky enough to see several years ago at the Fox. Warning: This is very intense, dealing with mental illness and its impact on the family.

• River Styx Literary Magazine will host “Books & Brews* at Urban Chestnut on Manchester at 6 p.m. July 10. Readings from the authors, first glimpse at issue 98, and the first beer is free - sorta. Admission is $15.

• The St. Louis Women’s Artisan Pop Up Shop will take place Saturday, July 29 at Lemon Gem Kitchen Goods on Manchester. It will host women-owned small businesses with dozens of nifty vendors.

• Enjoying The Handmaid’s Tale? Meet author Margaret Atwood when she accepts the 2017 St. Louis Literary Award, to be presented by the St. Louis University Library Associates at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 19 at Sheldon Concert Hall on Washington Boulevard.

Have a good weekend!


Monday Linkspam

The Tonys were held Sunday night, and I am pleased to announce that Edwardsville native Laurie Metcalf won best actress for A Doll’s House Part 2 - a production I did not know existed, but intrigues me. Trivia note: the Metcalf Theater on the campus of Southern Illinois University Edwardsville is named after her father, James Metcalf. Laurie Metcalf is a founding member of Steppenwolf Theater, along with John Malkovich, Gary Sinise and others. Metcalf’s win “surprised no one,” according to the New York Times.

It’s no huge surprise that Bette Midler won best lead actress in a musical, since she’s been knocking down the walls in the revival of Hello, Dolly. Best line of the night was from her (apparently quite long) acceptance speech: “I’d like to thank all the Tony voters, many of whom I’ve actually dated.” — Bette Midler

 

Tony
Puttin' on the Ritz

 

Dear Evan Hansen won best new musical, an “unflinching” look at grief and loneliness about a high school student who insinuates himself into the family of a classmate who has killed himself. It also picked up best lead actor for Ben Platt.

Best play went to Oslo, set behind the scenes of the 1993 Middle East peace accords. It defeated A Doll’s House Part 2, which follows Nora’s return to face the consequences of her decision at the end of the classic Ibsen play. Two others up for best play - Sweat by Lynn Nottage and Indecent by Paula Vogel - were penned by Pulitzer winners, so competition was fierce. Cynthia Nixon won best featured actress for The Little Foxes; look for her in an intriguing biopic of Emily Dickinson titled A Quiet Passion, which was allegedly released in April, but I have yet to see it in local theaters.

Oh, and Kevin Kline picked up another Tony for a Noel Coward piece, speaking of surprising no one. But best revival went to Jitney by August Wilson. Full details at the New York Times.

 

• Congratulations to author Michael Knost for receiving the JUG Award (Just Uncommonly Good) from the West Virginia Writers organization this weekend.

RIP Adam West, who died on Friday of cancer. There was much mourning on social media, with remembrances of him as a good and decent fellow who came to terms with his typecasting as the tongue-in-cheek cheesy TV Batman.

 

Batman
Go on, sniffle. I'll wait.

 

 

• Steven Moffat reminds us all why we’re glad to see him go, as he tells io9 he never cast a woman as the Doctor because it never popped into his head, and of course the first idea that pops into your head is always the best one, right? Or as author Nicholas Kaufmann said, “The lesson here, apparently, is that if it takes even a smidgen of thought or effort, it isn’t worth doing.” My favorite is when Moffat insists he’s not misogynist because he’s “to the left of a lot of my detractors,” as though a liberal can’t be sexist. 

Moffat can insist all the time that he’s not sexist, but I threw the remote across the room and stopped watching the show after River Song declared in mid-regeneration, “Shhh, I’m concentrating on a dress size.” I’ve since caught up to the beginning of Capaldi, and I suppose I shall have to watch the rest in preparation for the next era. But good lord, am I tired of this trope that making a woman or a person of color a central character of any franchise is “a forced political choice” or “political correctness run amok.” I've read far too many comments insisting that they should never make the Doctor a woman "just because." Perhaps instead these showrunners (and the fans) could consider that women are 50 percent of the human population, and there are a very large number of human beings of any gender who are not white? That’s not political correctness, that’s math.

• And RIP Glenne Headly, best known to me as Tess Trueheart in the 1980s Dick Tracy. She was only 62 years old, and had built a strong career on TV shows like Monk, ER and films like Mr. Holland’s Opus as well as Dick Tracy. Maybe it’s just because I was a kid then, but she’ll always be Tess to me.

 

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Tess Trueheart

The Black Panther trailer has dropped. You know, I’m just gonna let you go see it. It speaks for itself pretty well. And because it is a day ending in Y, some people are upset about it. How many remains to be seen, but since the general reaction has been, “Oh, there aren’t THAT many racists in America, Marvel is just trying to stir controversy,” and Disney wouldn’t support anything dark, controversial or violent,” my facepalm is reaching epic proportions. (Note: Disney /= animated fairytales only. I can’t believe I have to keep saying this.) FYI, if you want to know if there are really racists upset about this, look no further than the comments section on pretty much any article about it. Better yet, check out Denny Upkins’ look at Shuri…. and, sadly, see that Marvel has canceled World of Wakanda less than 48 hours after the trailer blew up the internet. Seriously??

• Here on the local scene, Dance St. Louis has announced its 2017-18 season with new artistic consultant Terence Marling. This year’s season includes Chicago at the Fox, The Nutcracker at Touhill Performing Arts Center, TAP Dynamics at the Grandel and more. Find out more at Dance St. Louis’ website.

East St. Louis Poet Laureate Eugene Redmond and his daughter, poet and educator Treasure Shields Redmond, will deliver readings and performances in “Black Joy in the Mourning” at the Pulitzer Arts Foundation on Thursday, June 22 at 7 p.m. They will include a discussion of many influences on their work, including Miles Davis, the 1917 East St. Louis riots, migration, and the south.

And the BND is running the annual Readers’ Choice Awards, so click here to fill out your ballot! (It’s early on, so you may have to nominate some of your favorites.)


Thursday Linkspam

• This year’s WWDC conference had a bunch of gifts for Apple fans. Business Insider has an interesting analysis: instead of flashy new projects (though there are a few of those), Apple is laying out a strategy for the next 10 years. Personally I don’t care about the iWatch or augmented reality. The HomePod interests me much more, as a lifelong Apple user with a full-house Apple system. MacOS and iOS updates, App Store update, lots of other toys (and an iMac Pro that makes me long for the budget to acquire a $5,000 desktop). Wired hits the highlights so you don’t have to watch all two hours of the presentation. I cannot confirm or deny that I may have done precisely that, while fast-forwarding through the iWatch and the deep-dive programmer stuff. 

Wonder Woman is the gift that keeps on giving. Did you know Gal Gadot did reshoots while five months pregnant? Enjoy some hilarious Tweets. Bustle explains why women are crying during the fight scenes - I didn’t, but it’s been explained that I’m heartless. More love for General Buttercup - er, Antiope. EW lists some suggested comics, but doesn’t include Trinity, so I can’t take it too seriously. io9 wisely wonders why Patty Jenkins isn’t contracted to a sequel yet when David Ayer was signed for one after making the disastrous Suicide Squad. Connie Nielsen and Robin Wright are confirmed for Justice League. Mashable takes a look at the Diana-Steve romance and how well it works. And enjoy these nifty posters.

• Lest we forget that badass women have been in movies/TV before without getting their credit, the Mary Sue takes a new look at Evie of the Mummy movies - at least, the ones who count. I have a whole rant on the O’Connells as a model for romantic partnership… and compiling those Wikipedia links now makes me want to watch all those movies again. I already knew the new Mummy movie couldn’t hold a candle to those, but its prospects look even worse than that. I almost feel sorry for Tom Cruise… But not all the reviews are bad.

• Speaking of sequels, Mary Poppins Returns is on its way, with Emily Blunt taking the not-inconsiderable task of following in Julie Andrew’s practically-perfect-in-every-way bootsteps. Lin-Manuel Miranda takes up the lamplighter’s role (and if there is no cameo by Dick Van Dyke, I will personally march on Main Street, I swear by my magic umbrella). I’m actually hopeful about this one; from the looks of it, the only person who wouldn’t like it would be P.L. Travers.

• Romance is alive! Well, in a dark and twisted kind of way. Batman proposed to Catwoman (again) in the latest Batman issue as part of the DC Rebirth. Somehow I doubt they will live happily ever after, since this is comics and ol’ Bruce has… issues. (See what I did there?) Mazel tov, Bruce and Selina. For now.

• I have quite enjoyed watching Luke Cage the past week and a half, binging it in several sessions while the characters troll each other on Twitter. CBR has a rundown on what did and didn’t work, and halfway I agree, but with several quibbles. I disagree that the series was too long and dialed back “because it’s still a Disney property”; uh, guys? Did you actually watch Jessica Jones with the running theme of mental (and physical) rape? Dialed back my ass.

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I also strongly disagree that Mike Colter’s acting was a problem, though they’re dead-on about the inconsistency of Luke’s romances. He refuses a phone number from a nice, attractive woman he knows, then has a one-night stand with a total stranger, which then dissipates into thin air so he can romance Claire the Omnipresent Nurse, and did we all forget future wife Jessica Jones? Luke as a ladies’ man or Luke as grieving widower eschewing close relationships or Luke as serial monogamist - oh, make up your minds.

The music was actually hit or miss with me, but I fully recognize that my eclectic taste in music is not that of the wider world. Also: The only episode that didn’t work for me was the finale. The beatdown in the street with cops holding back the crowd was a tad too Lethal Weapon-dumb for me.

I’d really like to skip Iron Fist, though. Can I have two Jessica Jones and wait for the next season?

• Rest in peace, theater designer Mark Wilson. Wilson’s designs were seen at the Repertory Theater of St. Louis, Shakespeare Festival, St. Louis Actors’ Studio, Shakespeare in the Streets, Opera Theater of St. Louis and many others. If you saw a theatrical performance in St. Louis in recent years, odds are good you saw a Wilson design. He died last week in a tractor accident, and this year’s Shakespeare Festival run is dedicated to his memory.

• For locals here in the sunny metro-east, it looks to be a big weekend! There’s the Glen Carbon Homecoming and the Route 66 Festival. If I may be permitted a moment of self-indulgence, I will be signing at Afterwords Books in Edwardsville on Saturday along with eight other authors as part of the Blue Corridor Route 66 celebration. No, my work has nothing to do with Route 66, but I live here, so shut it.

In addition, U2 is coming to town. Troy is playing Rogue One with plenty of Star Wars fun (including lightsaber giveaways and demonstrations, free hot dogs, and more) in Tri-Township Park. Thunderbirds are go at Scott Air Force Base. And the Shakespeare Festival’s Winter’s Tale is rolling.

• Finally, look at some lovely images of Central Park shot by a New Jersey photographer with terrible insomnia. It’s like something from another time.


Thursday Linkspam

Everyone has already posted their condolences on the death of Roger Moore, so I won’t try. Cancer sucks.

As usual, the debate of “who was the best Bond” arises as it does any time the Bond franchise is in the news, with the aura of a religious fervor and none shall be swayed. I won’t say Moore was my favorite Bond, but he was the first I saw, back when they re-ran Bond flicks in marathons every summer and I was watching them with my dad.

The Film Professor was partial to Sean Connery, of course, since he was the first and Film Professor saw them in the theater from the start. But Connery was a little too fond of smacking women around (and raping them). The linked analysis delves more extensively into it - and yes, 1960s movies based on post-WWII books, but let’s not pretend that we didn’t know what rape and lesbianism was in 1964. I barely understood either concept when I first watched Goldfinger, and yet I knew enough to know that scene was wrong in every way.

Still, Moore was my entry drug, and his suave enjoyment of his character gave me a fondness for the tropes of the series that lasts to this day. I count myself a solid Bond fan, with all the warts and glitches of the series acknowledged. I started catching them in the theater with Timothy Dalton (who doesn’t get enough credit for holding the franchise together through its hardest years) and every film since. Even Tomorrow Never Dies, which is the only one I refuse to ever watch again.

The surviving Bond actors (and Bond girls) gave their reactions in many ways, from Jane Seymour to Pierce Brosnan to Connery himself. But I thought it was Daniel Craig who gave the best eulogy. “Nobody does it better.”

Bonds
If you know the artist, please let me know so I can credit.

 

In other news…

• In case you’ve been asleep all day and didn’t see the interwebs until now, it’s the 40th anniversary of the premiere of Star Wars. I cannot share a story of seeing it in the theater, because I was two years old and my parents sensibly left me with a babysitter. But I’d be nuts not to acknowledge the impact it has had on science fiction, on filmmaking, on American popular culture, on the economy… You can Google the retrospectives as well as I can. But as much as George Lucas has taken it on the chin over the years, no one can deny he created something that spoke to nearly everyone, beyond the boundaries of genre, something ultimately bigger than himself. What more can we ask as artists?

Racist mouthbreathers are protesting the new Star Trek Discovery because *gasp* the captain is an Asian woman and the first officer is a black woman. Granted, any time someone tries to tie “fan reaction” to the comments on YouTube and Twitter, I am suspect. But worse is that the writers keep calling these idiots “Trekkies.” I challenge them to ask any of these genetically disadvantaged asshats calling Discovery “white genocide in space” (seriously??) whether they have ever actually seen an episode of Star Trek. The answer is no, because Trek pretty much pioneered diversity in mainstream science fiction before these morons were born. Therefore the word they are searching for is “troll,” not “Trekkie.”

RIP Lisa Spoonauer, best known as Caitlin in Kevin Smith’s raunchy low-budget surprise hit Clerks. In one respect Clerks is vile toilet humor, the sort of film you watch when the kids are in bed and you’re sure no one’s coming over. And yet it spoke to those of us slogging away behind mind-numbing cash registers in the 1990s, a slice of our own lives there in grainy black-and-white film. No one has yet said what caused Spoonauer’s death at the age of 44, but her Clerks castmates have given their condolences and remembered her as a skilled professional who helped shape the film that launched Smith’s career.

• Book nerds who are wondering what the latest Amazon-vs.-publisher kerfuffle is about: Jason Sizemore of Apex Book Co. writes a clear and concise analysis of what it means for publishers, for authors, and for readers.

• An interesting reflection on the Cannes Film Festival’s haute cinema decision and how the blame for the film industry’s problems lies in Hollywood’s obsession with franchises, not streaming services hitting the production arena.

• Here, launch a fight! IndieWire attempts to rank the 25 best science fiction movies of the 21st century (so far). Spoiler alert: Children of Men is first. Um, not even close, boys. Let the battle begin!

• Speaking of movies, this weekend is Memorial Day, which used to be the launching point for the summer blockbusters. It keep creeping earlier every year. The big release this weekend is Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, which I truly hoped would not suck. Alas, the critics disagree; it’s at 32 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. It’s still getting higher marks than Baywatch, also coming out this weekend, but let’s not damn it with faint praise. I really did not care for the fourth Pirates film, but I loved the first three, so I was hoping for a return to swashbuckling fun this time…

• In the category of (possible) bombs, literally no one has said That Dirty Dancing remake was awesome!” It was three hours long, it was on broadcast TV, and everyone has said Baby should have stayed in the corner. Rolling Stone watched it so you don’t have to. Me? I had better things to do, like trim my toenails and wish Patrick Swayze was still around. (Note: There IS a Dirty Dancing Broadway musical, which I understand is pretty awesome and came nowhere near this mess.)

• And finally… Supergirl gives its nod to the upcoming Wonder Woman film. Tee hee hee. “Nice boots.” Go ahead and click, you could use the laugh.

It’s a big weekend here at stately CultureGeek Manor with a birthday, a graduation, a party and probably a great deal of rum coming, so I can’t swear there will be much in Monday’s Linkspam. Have a great holiday weekend, and stay nerdy!


Monday Linkspam

The new Wonder Woman trailer has dropped. I liked the previous one better, but at least we’re seeing new motion on the movie with only a few weeks to go. This trailer was obviously geared at the super-action fans, heavy on the explosions and fisticuffs. As I’ve said before, I don’t even care if it sucks, as long as it makes money. Because if it doesn’t absolutely blow all the records out, if it’s even slightly less than perfect at the box office, we won’t get another female-centered superhero film for another 20 years.

Book Riot says what the rest of us are thinking about Marvel’s idiotic, disastrous “Cap is Hydra” timeline that everyone hates and P.S. no one is buying.

• In the You’ll Never See This Much Cool Again category, see Star Trek authors Kevin Dilmore, Dayton Ward, Glenn Hauman, Robert Greenberger, Michael Jan Freidman, William Leisner, David Mack, Scott Pearson, Dave Galanter, Aaron Rosenberg and Keith DeCandido all in one place: the bridge of the USS Enterprise. All they were missing was Peter David!

• Oh, hello new IT trailer. Good thing I wasn’t sleeping tonight.

• And speaking of trailers, the Defenders trailer means that I’m going to have to watch the ones that aren’t Jessica Jones now. Dangit.

• Black Nerd Problems analyzes race in the new American Gods series based on the novel by Neil Gaiman. “After all, the black man in America knows sacrifice, doesn’t he? Part of the brilliance of Gaiman’s novel is exactly what he chooses to mythologize in his story of America; yes, there are gods, but the real mythological landscape is America itself, and an outdated form of American nostalgia.”

• The really excellent and terribly misnamed Edge of Tomorrow will actually get a sequel in defiance of Hollywood physics. Unfortunately Tom Cruise will be back - don’t get me wrong, Cruise is fun and all, but Emily Blunt is the real heroine of that story and Cruise’s fame tends to blot out everything else.  At least Blunt will be back, so maybe they’ll let her be awesome without standing in the big star’s shadow this time.

• And finally, a Random Useless Fact: Jerry Orbach of Beauty and the Beast and Law & Order fame was an uncredited extra in 1955’s Guys and Dolls even though he had a whole singing line to himself. He’s the guy in the barbershop who first sings out, “Why, it’s good old reliable Nathan, Nathan Nathan Nathan Detroit!” Once you’re looking for him and listening for his baritone, it’s clear as a bell. Of course, he went on to be nominated for a Tony for Guys and Dolls in the 1965 revival and originated the best song in The Fantasticks, along with his roles in the aforementioned movies, tons of Broadway, and of course Dirty Dancing, among others.

 

 


'Othello': I kissed thee ere I killed thee...

Forgive the lateness of this week's column, my fiends, but I must needs delay long enough to witness the splendor that is Othello.

Sorry. Once you spend an evening in Shakespeare Glen, you start thinking in Elizabethan English. I, of course, have a natural tendency toward it. (Ahem. What's my name again? Thank you, I'll be here all week.)

Othello is striking from the beginning, with sumptuous 1912 costuming and a steampunk set that seems equally at home for Wicked as for one of Shakespeare's greatest tragedies. The cogs of consummate villain Iago's machinations are slowly revealed - quite literally, in giant clockwork wheels behind the set - as the story of Othello, Desdemona and their cohorts unfolds. In all technical aspects of this year's production by Shakespeare Festival St. Louis, Othello is a masterpiece.

In fact, I honestly could find no real fault with this production. The Shakespeare Festival always provides above-average interpretations of the Bard's work, and even when they stumble (Much Ado in the wild wild West?) they are still head and shoulders above most Shakespearean theater I've seen performed.

This time, however, they've outdone themselves. Othello is in more than capable hands with Billy Eugene Jones, who sells us on both sides of Shakespeare's Moor with great dexterity. A soldier and a man, he shows us the tender love Othello bears toward his Desdemona with so much chemistry that the first act makes it seem impossible he could ever harm her.

Aside: If you think I'm going to put a spoiler warning on a 400-year-old play, you're hilariously mistaken. But knowing the end still made me doubt how this charming, loving couple could possibly be torn apart.

Iago spins his web across the stage under the hands of Justin Blanchard. As noted by an essay in the program, Othello is really Iago's story, just as Julius Caesar is far more the story of Brutus. But Iago is no honorable man. The number of times the cast blithely calls him "honest" is all the more teeth-gritting as his hatred and smiling servility smarms across the stage. (Say that three times.) "How am I, then, a villain?" he asks, and at once we see the truth of it: he merely sets the stage, much as Shakespeare himself, and lets others undo themselves. I overheard another patron call Blanchard's performance, "a brilliant asshole," and one cannot truly argue with the assessment.

Shining through is Heather Wood as a Desdemona with both agency and intelligence. It is far too easy to play Desdemona as passive; she is the ultimate victim, of course, the perfect loving Mary Sue adored by all and undone by the actions of others. Wood manages to escape all of that with inflection, tone and dignity, living within the time period that demanded she call her husband Lord, yet clearly a woman of strength and fortitude within herself. More to the point: she is a Desdemona who fights back, who strives to save herself and her husband at the same time, even when it is her husband who is the greatest threat. If you have ever eschewed Othello because you cannot imagine a wife blithely lying in bed waiting for her husband to kill her, you will not be disappointed in this production.

Extra credit goes to Kim Stauffer as Emilia, a functional plot device who nevertheless gets the groundbreaking feminist monologue in Act IV (at least, the feminism of 1604) and stands as the sole voice of righteousness in the final moments of the play. Emilia likewise can be played as her husband's mindless tool whose futile rebellion costs her her life. (Again: the play's been around for 400 years. Read a damn book.) That Emilia stands as the bravest character on the stage at the end, surrounded by cowardly, jealous men, shows that director Bruce Longworth realizes the true strength of Shakespeare's women, far ahead of his time.

It is not a short play; plan on three and a half hours from curtain, not including the always-enjoyable green show beforehand. (Extra applause for the strolling jugglers!) But it never feels like three and a half hours; the pace is quick and the staging manipulated so you are never confused or lost in the language. It is the first Shakespeare production in the park that has tempted me to return again for another viewing, and that's with the mosquitoes.

I strongly recommend this summer's Shakespeare Festival production of Othello. This is not the year to miss out, and very well might be St. Louis' strongest theatrical production of the year. The festival runs every night except Tuesdays through June 17, and is free to all - but I suggest getting there early enough to score a good seat. You won't be disappointed.


Next to Normal

Some plays should have a warning label placed on them.

If Next to Normal had one, it would read: "Not recommended for those who have been caregivers for the severely mentally ill, cleaned up after a loved one's suicide or attempt, or have lost a child, as it may be triggering as hell. Also uses strobe lights."

Okay, they warned us about the strobe lights.

Next to Normal is a marvel of writing. I didn't think a Broadway musical could hold water when it is a story in microcosm: there is nothing going on in the story outside this small family and its trials. I generally tend to think of musicals as something bigger, on the scale of a revolution or operatic murder. The story of a bipolar housewife and her struggles to achieve sanity seem pretty small.

But Next to Normal draws you in from the beginning with strong music and a wry humor that gives you a sense of empathy that you might not otherwise achieve. It wrenches at your heart, whether or not you've experienced the issues on the warning label. And if you haven't, it just might teach you a thing or two.

For those who have made it out the other side, it honestly might be cathartic - someone gets it at last! But for those still dealing with such traumas, it really might be triggering, so I'm only half-kidding about the warning label.

There are moments of extreme creepiness, moments of honest and raw emotion, and moments that will make you giggle. Not, I'm afraid, the ending, unless you were one of the idiotic drunken people in the next box at the Fox Theater. You, the ones who laughed at moments as intense as Schindler's List? Yes, during the Friday night show. I'm talking to you. I'm the one who was in the stage-right box with my friend who scored the super-deluxe tickets, the one who turned around and glared at you to shut the hell up. I expect such behavior from teenagers at the movie theater, not people whose companies paid $30,000 a year for a box at the Fox.

(P.S. I could get used to this Fox Club stuff. Gated-community parking, a private entrance, a personal waiter to bring you fancy drinks? I felt like the aristocracy looking down at the groundlings. Usually I'm standing in line for the unsold limited-vision seats in the nosebleed section.)

Drunken idiots aside, I found Next to Normal to be an emotional rollercoaster and one of the few plays in which I truly did not know how it would end. We were a tad dismayed when we arrived and discovered that the lead character would be played by her understudy, Pearl Sun. I don't know how good the regular lead is, but Sun absolutely blew me away, both with her voice and her acting. When a woman weeps onstage, very few weep with her. But Sun wrenched the tears from the audience, and her standing ovation was well-deserved.

My companion remarked that none of the songs were really stand-out sing-in-the-shower numbers that you take home with you, and this is true. Next to Normal is less of a traditional musical and more of an opera in that regard, where little is spoken and most is sung, with one song blending into another seamlessly without the cue lines that tend to indicate, "Time for another number!"

It also has some surprises, one of which is only one-third of the way through the first act. Just as nothing is normal in the Goodman house, nothing is quite as it seems. I find I want to go see it again if only to pick up on the clues I might have missed.

Next to Normal won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for drama even though it was not nominated by the gatekeeping committee. While snubbed by the Tonys - it lost to Billy Elliot, which at least is better than losing to Shrek - it keeps gathering steam from audiences who don't want to check their brains at the door and aren't afraid to face some of the dark corners of the human psyche. Whether or not you're a fan of the song-and-dance musical, I strongly recommend seeing Next to Normal while you still can. It runs through April 24 at the Fox Theater in St. Louis.

Just mind those warning labels.