Oscars: Parasite wins big!

So, full confession: We haven't gotten through the Oscars telecast yet. The show was blacked out for the St. Louis market on ABC's streaming app FOR REASONS and the antenna was misbehaving on ABC only, possibly in stark protest to the insanity of blocking out St. Louis during the Oscars. You really didn't want us cheering St. Louis Superman, did you?

So now it's on streaming, but there simply haven't been enough consecutive hours where the CultureGeeks could get together to watch it. We've seen the bonkers opening number and the first hour of awards, and cheers to Idina Menzel and the International Elsas for a kickass performance from a movie that should have been nominated.

(Ian Smith wishes to register his disagreement, as he is a Toy Story baby and was all in for Woody and Buzz's final adventure, while Elizabeth Donald is solidly of the belief that Frozen 2 was an absolute masterpiece in art and beauty as well as some truly nifty character moments and I've gotten off track.)

Instead, then, we will offer thoughts on best picture from our resident filmmaker, Rahul Menon, who has been caping for Parasite since he first saw it - and was the first to recognize it could make history as the first foreign film to win best picture. -- ekd

 

Ever since I watched Parasite for the first time back in October, I have been in love with it and raving about it to pretty much every single person I meet. My friends, my colleagues, my teachers... I even had a 30-minute conversation with a random stranger I met in Los Angeles, while waiting for my food in front of a food truck!

It feels like I've personally been on a campaign for 기생충 for the last few months! From watching the movie for the first time, to meeting writer-director Bong Joon Ho for a brief, minute long conversation at the Golden Globes Symposium in LA, to randomly stumbling upon a rep at a party, that started a 2 month long conversation with its American distributors - Neon, the South Korean producers - CJ Entertainment, and representatives of Mr. Bong Joon Ho.

This eventually led to the Film Society of SIUE bringing the movie to our campus for a screening, making it the first-ever free university screening that happened outside of a film school, the first such screening outside of New York and Los Angeles, and something that I'm personally proud of: a screening personally approved by Bong Joon Ho.

To see him get on that stage and win those four deserving Oscars was so satisfying. He tied with Walt Disney for most number of Oscars won on a single night!

His reaction and speech after he won best director is what being a film lover is all about. When he noticed Martin Scorsese giving him a standing ovation, he couldn't contain his joy at being nominated with him, and mentioned that Scorsese was someone he studied while in film school. He asked everyone to give Martin Scorsese a standing ovation; now that's pure fanboy love right there!

He then shouted out "When no one knew me and my movies, Quentin Tarantino put my movies on his list, Quentin, I love you!"

Bong Joon Ho, you deserve all four of those Oscars you won today, you deserve the standing ovation those 3,400 people gave you. They say you should never meet your heroes, but meeting you for those 60 secs is something I'll cherish forever. Till we meet again, "Respect!"

Other notes:

Why the [bleep] was Eminem performing a song that won the Oscar 17 years ago?

• Joaquin Phoenix's vegan rant didn't go over well with the dairy industry.

"Too predictable, too white and too boring": Oscars rating at an all-time low

The Oscars has a diversity problem. (Which... duh, but it's a good analysis nonetheless.)

 

Rahul Menon was born and raised in New Delhi, India, and currently lives in Illinois. He is an assistant director, screenwriter and occasional actor, as well as a computer science engineer who worked as a software analyst and in advertising and marketing prior to entering the film industry. His screen debut was as screenwriter and assistant director of Saayanna Varthakal (Evening News) in 2018. He is currently pursuing a masters degree at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. FacebookInstagramIMDB.

Elizabeth Donald is a freelance journalist, editor, author, photographer, grad student and instructor, as well as the editor of CultureGeek. In her spare time, she has no spare time. Find out more at donaldmedia.com.


Splatterpunk!

According to author Jeff Strand: “Congratulations to the vile, appalling, morally bereft nominees for this year's Splatterpunk Awards!”

There really isn’t anything we could add to that. Jeff nails it perfectly!

 

For Immediate Release
February 9, 2020

Best-selling authors and Splatterpunk Award founders Wrath James White and Brian Keene are proud to announce the nominees for the 2020 Splatterpunk Awards, honoring superior achievement for works published in 2019 in the sub-genres of Splatterpunk and Extreme Horror. The nominees are recommended by readers, fans and peers. The nominees are as follows.

BEST NOVEL
1. Carnivorous Lunar Activities by Max Booth III (Cinestate/Fangoria)
2. Killer Lake by W.D. Gagliani and David Benton (Deadite Press)
3. Reception by Kenzie Jennings (Death's Head Press)
4. Lakehouse Infernal by Christine Morgan (Deadite Press)
5. Merciless by Bryan Smith (Grindhouse Press)
6. Toxic Love by Kristopher Triana (Blood Bound Books)
7. They Kill by Tim Waggoner (Flame Tree Press)

BEST NOVELLA
1. White Trash Gothic Part 2 by Edward Lee (Section 31 Productions)
2. Saint Sadist by Lucas Mangum (Grindhouse Press)
3. Weeping Season by Sean O’Connor (Uafas Press)
4. How Much To..? by Matt Shaw (Self-Published)
5. One For the Road by Wesley Southard (Deadite Press)
6. Paradise, Maine by Jackson R. Thomas (Alien Agenda Publishing)

BEST SHORT STORY
1. “Breaking the Waters” by Donyae Coles (from Pseudopod)
2. “Angelbait” by Ryan Harding (from The Big Book of Blasphemy, Necro Publications)
3. "Censered" by Christine Morgan (from And Hell Followed, Death’s Head Press)
4. “Shoulder Pain” by Chandler Morrison (from Macabre Museum Magazine)
5. “Param” by Susan Snyder (from Trigger Warning: Body Horror, Madness Heart Press)
6. “Norwegian Woods” by Jeremy Wagner (from The Big Book of Blasphemy, Necro Publications)

BEST COLLECTION
1. Dead Sea Chronicles by Tim Curran (Bloodshot Books)
2. Various States of Decay by Matt Hayward (Poltergeist Press)
3. Dawn of the Living Impaired, and Other Messed-Up Zombie Stories by Christine Morgan (Death’s Head Press)
4. This Is A Horror Book by Charles Austin Muir (Clash Books)
5. Dirty Rotten Hippies and Other Stories by Bryan Smith (Grindhouse Press)
6. Resisting Madness by Wesley Southard (Death’s Head Press)

BEST ANTHOLOGY
1. And Hell Followed, edited by Jarod Barbee and Patrick C. Harrison III (Death’s Head Press)
2. The Big Book of Blasphemy, edited by Regina Mitchell and David G. Barnett (Necro Publications)
3. Dig Two Graves, edited by Jarod Barbee and Patrick C. Harrison III (Death’s Head Press)
4. Midnight In The Graveyard, edited by Kenneth W. Cain (Silver Shamrock Publishing)
5. The New Flesh: A Literary Tribute to David Cronenberg, edited by Sam Richard and Brendan Vidito (Weirdpunk Books)
6. Polish Extreme, edited by Edward Lee & Karolina Kaczkowska (Necro Publications)

A panel of judges composed of professionals, critics and scholars in the field will now begin the process of reading each nominated work, and selecting a winner for each category. Winners will be announced at KillerCon, taking place in Austin, Texas this August 7th through the 9th.

In addition to the winners, author and editor Edward Lee will receive the annual J.F. Gonzalez Lifetime Achievement Award honoring his significant contributions to the sub-genres of Splatterpunk and Extreme Horror. Previous recipients are David J. Schow and David G. Barnett.

Four notes of interest regarding this year’s awards:

1. While each category normally has six nominees, press will note that the Best Novel category for this year contains seven. That is due to a tie in the recommendation process.

2. While scholar and editor Regina Mitchell has served as a judge in previous years, she will not be a part of this year’s judging panel, as that would violate the award’s rules regarding eligible works (for The Big Book of Blasphemy). Her replacement, along with the identities of the other judges, will be announced in a separate forthcoming press release.

3. This year saw a significant increase in the number of women and authors who identify as female writing Splatterpunk and Extreme Horror. The recommendation process evidenced readers and fans mentioning a number of new female voices.

4. This year also saw a significant increase in the number of consumers reading Splatterpunk and Extreme Horror, as evidenced by the number of new readers participating in the recommendation process.

Press inquiries can be sent to Wrath James White or Brian Keene.


Superb Owl 2020: Wave that mustache!

What halftime show? 

(Yes, I have Thoughts on that, but others are expressing it much more eloquently elsewhere on the net. Suffice to say I'm very much torn between appreciation of amazing performances with overtly political statements and cultural value, and wanting to smack the cameraman and director for the ridiculous male-gaze crotch shots. Those terrific women deserved better treatment for their work.)

Instead, we go for the commercials here at CultureGeek, because we are all about pop culture here and Super Bowl ads are a reflection of pop culture, of the economy, of the nation's mindset. "Nervous" is a word that comes to mind - not many risks taken, not much in the way of a standout, but some ads definitely resonated more than others.

As you know if you follow my Twitter account, each year I observe the Superb Owl at a party my dear friends throw in part to provide me a focus group for the commercials. This is in no way a scientific experiment, nor is it a representative sample, given that the entire room is full of middle-aged midwesterners and a couple of twentysomethings. My research methods professor would wring her hands in despair if I presented it to her.

But when you have a blowout winner like Sam Elliott's mustache, it deserves recording. 

 

 

Nothing else came anywhere close when I tallied the votes. 

A distant second among my crew was Jason Momoa's sly poke at the unrealistic male-physique expectations of a superhero actor while pitching Rocket Mortgage, with help from Lisa Bonet.

 

 

Funny usually works. Funny are the commercials that people seem to remember the most, whether or not they actually communicate about the product. But remember that dying is easy; comedy is hard. The running gag of "later" for Tide Pods fell utterly flat with my focus group, and for me. A running gag really hasn't worked since the Energizer Bunny, and the Tide Pod guy just didn't measure up.

Then there are the heartwarming ads, like third-place "Loretta" by Google. Of course, some folks pointed out that it could also be seen as a creepy reminder of how much of our personal information is stored on the net, but for most people, this one was Kleenex-worthy.

 

 

Utter failures included the avocado ad, the Hard Rock Cafe throwdown, that weird hummus ad, Pepsi's attempt to co-opt the Rolling Stones' "Paint It Black" (which is about a partner's death, not the color of her soda, guys), pretty much all of the 5G ads that had our programmer friend moaning in despair, and the Pringles riff on They Live with Rick and Morty (with the exception of one tween who voted for it). 

Others got a single vote, or no votes, but they caught my eye. Among them were WeatherTech's dog-survives-cancer, the Baaaaaaston accents for a self-parking Hyundai, New York Life's touching "Agape" spot, and Secret's "knock down walls" piece.

I also need to give a tip of the hat to the Bryan Cranston Shining parody for Mountain Dew, not because it was a brilliant ad, but because according to his Twitter, he is donating the funds to Film Aid, an organization dedicated to helping aspiring filmmakers. 

Speaking of films.... the race for best trailer ended up a three-way tie! Votes were evenly split between Black Widow, Mulan and the Marvel lineup on Disney+. By adding my own vote, I tip it to Mulan, which looks to be amazing.

 

 

Traditionally I don't review house ads, but the "take it to the house, kid" NFL ad meant a great deal to all the sports fans who actually recognized the people in the ad.

Also, extra credit should go to Walmart (did I really type that?) which might be evil but designed a terrific ad to shamelessly manipulate our nostalgia for good science fiction.

 

 

I also have to give props to the "world is out of sorts" bit about giving the world a Snickers to save us all - and got the first out-loud laugh of the night from the focus group. Here's the extended version.

 

 

And while it was forecasted waaaaay in advance with the alleged death of Mr. Peanut, I absolutely lost it when I saw Mr. Clean and the Kool-aid Man at the funeral. The debate raged on Twitter whether he was a ripoff of Groot or Baby Yoda. I'll let y'all fight it out in the comments. Bonus: Wesley Snipes rips up his eulogy in disgust. 

 

 

Some flubs here:

• I don't believe for a second that Dwayne Johnson has ever been on WW, the artist formerly known as Weight Watchers. It would have been better to show someone who actually has had to wrestle with being overweight. Still, the "running mates" gag was mildly amusing in an election year.

• Three Bloomberg political ads and one Trump ad. No other campaign could afford a $5.6 million spot?

• Trailers for Top Gun: Maverick and Fast and Furious No.31395 were unimpressive. There was allegedly one for a new Minions movie as well, and I must have missed it.

• Dear Pop-Tarts: Nobody asked for a pretzel version. Just stop.

• Michelob: Buying beer makes farms go organic. I'm not sure that's how economics works.

• The Reese's Take 5 workplace ad was more off-putting than appetizing for my whole crew. 

• The Fargo parody for SquareSpace made about as much sense as the real movie. Maybe it would be more effective with someone who, y'know, liked the movie... 

• The less said about the Alexa ad, the better. At least in this space. My full thoughts on using "fake news" as a goddamn gag to sell Amazon toys - when Jeff Bezos owns the frigging Washington Post - will be saved for a different space, when I can write about it without profanity. 

But in a flaw of timing, we took the votes on the ads before they finally aired Jeep's "Groundhog Day" rehash with Bill Murray and Stephen Tobolowsky. I've always been impressed by Tobolowsky, who has been in 200 movies and is also an accomplished musician and writer - far more than "Ned the Head." I was dying through the whole thing. Extra points to the groundhog's doubletake during whack-a-mole and the groundhog bike helmet.

Here's the expanded:

 

 

In all, none of the ads really stood out the way some previous ads have, in what is essentially a slice of American consumerism and the state of the economy piled up in a few dozen expensive spots. Mostly the companies played it safe, and while that might be disappointing for some, I find it a welcome relief from the Years of Rampant Sexism or the gross-out GoDaddy ads of a decade ago. 

Did we miss one? Do you disagree with the focus group? Share in the comments! About anything but the halftime show!

 

Elizabeth Donald is a freelance journalist, editor, author, photographer, grad student and instructor, as well as the editor of CultureGeek. In her spare time, she has no spare time. Find out more at donaldmedia.com.


Revisiting old favorites: the Godzilla Criterion collection

The Criterion Company that produces high-quality film collections decided to go old school for their Spine 1000. They decided, with Toho Studios, to make the ultimate Godzilla movie collection, starting with Gojira in 1954 and ending with Terror of Mecha-Godzilla from 1975.

This 15-movie set that is contained on eight Blu-Ray disc is a dream collection for a Godzilla fan. I was lucky enough to have the coolest in-laws who got this set for me as a Christmas present, much to my poor wife's suffering. In this review, I’m going to look at all the pros and cons to this set, so you can decide is this something that you might want to get for yourself.

 

PROS:

            The set contains all 15 Godzilla movies spanning the first 21 years of the franchise. It has the American version of Godzilla: King of the Monsters starring Raymond Burr, and as a bonus feature on the eighth disc, the very rare Japanese cut of King Kong vs Godzilla.

All of the movies are the original Japanese versions and the film quality on the disc are some of the best I have ever seen. They have a crystal-clear picture and great sound quality for each movie, as these transfers are direct from Toho Studios. I have other versions of these movies on DVD, and I can say that these cuts are the best I have seen as a collector of Godzilla movies. Criterion has outdone themselves with these productions and you won’t be disappointed with them.

The set itself is a beautiful art book with the eight discs stored in the back cover. Within the book is an essay by film historian Steve Ryfle, and each movie has notes of them from film historian Ed Godziszewski describing the making of each of the movies. Each movie has brand-new artwork from several artists that fits with the theme of the movie.

Some of the real treasures are on the eighth disc of the set, containing interviews with Ishiro Honda, Toho actor Bin Furuya who went on to play Ultraman as the suit actor, plus more special features highlighting the making of the movies.

 

CONS:

As cool as the book design is and the artwork on the cover, the thing is BIG! The book is 14.5 inches long and 10.5 inches wide. It can’t just sit on the shelves with the rest of your Blu-rays and DVDs.

IMG_8519(Coke can provided for scale.)

Only two of the movies in the set have audio commentary, and those are the original Gojira and Godzilla: King of the Monsters. The other movies are all lacking commentary tracks, which is something I enjoy listening to after watching the film for the first time.

Another con that might be a turn off for those that don’t like to read subtitles is that only seven of the movies in the set have English dubbing tracks for the movies. Godzilla:King of the Monsters, Invasion of Astro-Monster, Son of Godzilla, Destroy All Monsters, Godzilla vs Megalon, Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla, and Terror of Mechagodzilla are the only movies that have either an English soundtrack or dub for them. If you don’t like reading subtitles, then you will be out of luck.

There is one final con, and it is a big one: the price for the set. When it was first announced, the price was more than $260! Luckily,when it was released on Amazon, they put it on sale for $112. That's a lot cheaper, but still very pricey if you are on a budget.

I have also learned from YouTuber Daisuke Beppu of Japan that there are some misspellings throughout the book for actors' names that starred in the movies. Daisuke did an extensive seven-video review for the set and he goes in further details about the history and making of these movies.

 

Final Thoughts:

Do I recommend that you should get this set, even if you already own all these movies on DVD or Blu-Ray separately? Most definitely! These versions have some of the best picture quality of these movies. In addition, the Japanese version of King Kong vs. Godzilla has been next to impossible to find in America due to the licensing issues with Universal Pictures, so it is indeed a treat to be able to own a good copy of the movie.

If you are a Godzilla fan, you owe it to yourself to get this set to be able to enjoy these movies as they were meant to be seen, with the original Japanese versions of the films. Long live the King Godzilla!

 

Jim D. Gillentine is an author and self-professed comics geek, having immersed himself in four-color prose since the 1970s, and is the biggest Godzilla fan in the western hemisphere. He is currently completing his bachelor's degree at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. Website.


Farewell to kings: Neil Peart 1952-2020

Pardon my language, but fuck cancer.

I’ve lost several family and friends to the disease, and now I’ve lost one of my heroes. Neil Peart, the drummer of the band Rush and considered one of the best drummers to have ever lived, has passed away due to brain cancer.

Peart joined Rush to replace the original drummer, and bandmates Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson called him ‘the new guy’ even decades later. Peart's skills on the drums was legendary, and he also served as the band’s main lyricist. These skills served the band well and several big hit songs and albums followed.

The main song that you think of when you say the word Rush is "Tom Sawyer," a song that I hold dear to my heart.

Mirror-Ball-b-CRAIG-RENWICK
Photo from Modern Drummer

From the obituary in Rolling Stone: "Peart was one of rock’s greatest drummers, with a flamboyant yet utterly precise style that paid homage to his hero, the Who’s Keith Moon, while expanding the technical and imaginative possibilities of his instrument. He joined singer-bassist Geddy Lee and guitarist Alex Lifeson in Rush in 1974, and his musicianship and literate, wildly creative lyrics  – which drew on Ayn Rand and science fiction, among other influences – helped make the trio one of the classic-rock era’s essential bands. His drum fills on songs like 'Tom Sawyer' were pop hooks in their own right, each one an indelible mini-composition; his lengthy drum solos, carefully constructed and full of drama, were highlights of every Rush concert."

To watch Peart perform on the drums was to see a man possessed with the music, the rhythm, and the sheer joy of being one with what you were born to do. I was honored to see Rush play live in concert in 2015. It was a night that I will always remember, and seeing him perform his drum solo was a sight to behold.

Today, for me, the music died. I saw the news and I was literally crying as though I knew this man personally and that we had shared beers at a bar for years. Other singers and musicians that I loved have passed in recent years, but none of those deaths hit me like this.

I think it’s because the finality that this means to the band and the music. You can’t just go out and get another drummer to replace Peart. I believe the reason for this is because he still practiced, took drumming lessons all the time from other drummers, and refused to be anything but the best he could be. When he retired after their last tour in 2015, he noted that he was in constant physical pain during the tour and that he had bad tendons and carpal tunnel in both arms. So as much as it hurt to see him go, I understood as a fan that it was necessary.

He was diagnosed with glioblastoma three years ago and kept it hidden from the fans. It is a sad day for music, for Rush fans, and for me. His lyrics and drumming reached my soul and heart, and I will always love the enjoyment the band Rush gave me over the years. You were a master drummer, Mr. Peart. I will miss your skills and they will never be replaced.

 

Jim D. Gillentine is an author and self-professed comics geek, having immersed himself in four-color prose since the 1970s, and is the biggest Godzilla fan in the western hemisphere. He is currently completing his bachelor's degree at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. Website.


RIP: Those we lost in 2019

List and commentary compiled by Jason R. Tippitt. Rest in peace, shining stars.

 

Jan. 2: Darwin Bromley, 68, was founder of Mayfair Games, which produced the DC Heroes role-playing game, an RPG based on Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, and board games.

Jan. 4: Louisa Moritz, 82, a Cuban-American actress who played Rose in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, starred in the comedy anthology Love, American Style, and was the first woman to formally accuse Bill Cosby of sexual misconduct.

Jan. 12: Batton Lash, 65, an American cartoonist who was co-creator of the long-running independent comic series Supernatural Law and author of the 1994 one-shot Archie Meets The Punisher. More recently, he was a libertarian blogger.

Jan. 15: Carol Channing, 97, a singing and dancing star of stage and film whose credits included Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and Thoroughly Modern Millie.

Jan. 16: Lorna Doom, 61, bassist for the punk band The Germs both in its 1970s heyday and during its 2005-09 reunion.

Jan. 18: Boo, 12, a Pomeranian renowned as “The World’s Cutest Dog.” He had more than 17 million followers on Facebook and starred in four photo-books as well as appearing on the red carpet with Kristen Bell one time.

Jan. 19: Ted McKenna, 68, a Scottish rock ’n’ roll drummer with The Sensational Alex Harvey Band, the greatest ‘70s band you’ve likely never heard about if you’re a fellow American; and Tony Mendez, 78, a former CIA agent whose exploits were recounted in part in the film Argo.

Jan. 25: Dušan Makavejev, 86, a Serbian film director whose works included W.R.: Mysteries of the Organism (1971, a look at communism and sexual politics) and The Coca-Cola Kid (1985, a romantic comedy starring Eric Roberts).

Feb. 3: Kristoff St. John, 52, an actor best known for his long stint on the soap opera The Young & the Restless.

Feb. 7: Albert Finney, 82, an English actor who made it all seem effortless and played everyone from Winston Churchill (The Gathering Storm, 2002) to Kilgore Trout (Breakfast of Champions, 1999) to the foundling Tom Jones (1963) and Hercule Poirot (Murder on the Orient Express, 1973).

Feb. 9: Tomi Ungerer, 87, an Alsatian artist and writer who did children’s books (Flat Stanley) and adult works, autobiography and fantasy, and whose illustration extended to theatre and film (Dr. Strangelove, 1964; Monterey Pop, 1968).

Feb. 12: W.E.B. Griffin, 89, a prolific author of mystery and military novels — 38 books in six series under that name alone, with 11 other pen names and three other variants on his real name used to write even more.

Feb. 16: Bruno Ganz, 77, a Swiss-born star of German television and film whose works included the last-days-of-Hitler film Downfall and Wim Wenders’ classic Wings of Desire.

Feb. 18: Toni Myers, 77, an award-winning documentarian. She took full advantage of the IMAX format in films such as Blue Planet (1990), Hubble (2010), and A Beautiful Planet (2016).

Feb. 21: Beverley Owen, 81, who originated the role of Marilyn on the 1960s horror sitcom The Munsters before leaving Hollywood to become a wife, mother, and scholar (earning a master’s degree in early American history in 1989); and Peter Tork, 77, an actor and musician best known as the keyboardist and bass player for The Monkees.

Feb. 26: Jeraldine Saunders, 95, who channeled her experiences as the first known female cruise ship directors into a memoir that spawned the TV series The Love Boat. She was also a nationally syndicated horoscope writer.

Feb. 27: Nathaniel Taylor, 80, an American comic best remembered for his long recurring role as “Rollo” on Sanford & Son and its spinoffs Grady and Sanford.

March 4: Keith Flint, 49, a dancer and sometime motorcycle racer turned frontman of the English alternative-dance group The Prodigy; and actor Luke Perry, 52, the former teen idol (Beverly Hills 90210 and the film Buffy the Vampire Slayer) who at the time of his death was the only tether attaching The CW’s Archie Comics-based Riverdale to anything resembling sanity.

March 8: George Morfogen, 85, an American character actor best remembered for the original V miniseries and as a long-term cast member on the prison drama Oz, where he portrayed one of the two oldest men in the cell block.

March 16: Dick Dale, 81, the undisputed king of surf rock guitar; and actor Richard Erdman, 93, whose career went back to Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970) and Stalag 17 (1953) but also included his dry turn as the insult-slinging student Leonard on the sitcom Community.

March 22: Scott Walker, 76, an American-born singer-songwriter (born Noel Scott Engel) who joined the “family” band The Walker Brothers (not siblings, none of them named Walker) to record “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Any More,” “Take It Easy on Yourself,” and other pop, folk, and even country songs that did a lot better in Britain and Europe than in the U.S. As a solo artist, his increasingly avant-garde works featured lush arrangements, more than a few covers of the Belgian chanson artist Jacques Brel, a baritone voice that begs the listener to stop and pay attention, and exploration of unusual sounds and departures from traditional ideas of what a song even is. Admirers included David Bowie, Marc Almond, Brian Eno, Pulp, and Radiohead.

March 29: Mark Alessi, 65, a venture capitalist who from 1998-2004 was the publisher of the comics company CrossGen, which he founded. The company was an innovator in digital coloring and notable for starting out with a well-planned shared universe that had room for fantasy, mystery, and science fiction elements. It ended the way many startups do, with some creators unpaid and some stories unfinished, but works like Ruse later found a brief second life after Marvel Comics bought the rights to the company’s catalog.

April 3: Shawn Smith, 53, was a fixture in the Seattle alternative rock scene, working as a solo artist and singing in the bands Brad, Satchel, and Pigeonhed. But I best heard his aching, high vocals through his work as a background singer for the Afghan Whigs and as a vocalist in Whigs frontman Greg Dulli’s project the Twilight Singers.

April 9: James D. Hudnall, 61, was a comic book writer whose included the creator-owned Espers and long runs on Alpha Flight and Strikeforce Morituri for Marvel Comics. In more recent years, he spent time as a libertarian blogger.

April 12: Georgia Engel, 70, a comedic actress best remembered for her recurring roles on The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Everybody Loves Raymond.

April 14: Bibi Andersson, 83, a Swedish actress and collaborator with director Ingmar Bergman (Wild Strawberries, 1957; The Seventh Seal, 1957; Persona, 1966).

April 16: Fay McKenzie, 101, an American actress who performed in silent films as a child and continued into the talking films.

April 17: Kazuo Koike, 82, the Japanese manga writer whose works included the influential Lady Snowblood and Lone Wolf & Cub.

April 23: Terry Rawlings, 85, a British film editor whose works included Alien, Blade Runner, and Chariots of Fire.

 April 26:  Jessie Lawrence Ferguson, 76, an actor perhaps best remembered as a self-hating police officer in John Singleton’s Boyz in the Hood.

April 28: John Singleton, 51, the film director and TV producer whose other works included the cars-and-crime drama 2 Fast 2 Furious and the cable crime drama Snowfall.

April 30: Peter Mayhew, 74, was the British giant and gentleman who inhabited the Chewbacca costume for every Star Wars film up to The Force Awakens.

May 4: Rachel Held Evans, 37, was a top-selling Christian author and blogger, a leading voice of the evangelical center and left.

May 11: Nan Winton, 93, British broadcaster who became the first female newsreader for the BBC; and Peggy Lipton, 72, a co-star of the crime drama The Mod Squad who later became beloved to another generation as cafe owner Norma Jennings in Twin Peaks, a role she reprised in the 2017 cable TV revival. She was also the mother of actress Rashida Jones.

May 12: Machiko Kyō, 95, a Japanese actress whose main work was done in the 1950s, including her co-starring role as the samurai’s wife in Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon (1950).

May 13: Doris Day, 97, an American actress and singer who spent her later years as an animal rights activist.

May 14: American actor and comedian Tim Conway, 85; and internet celebrity Tardar Sauce, aka Grumpy Cat, 7. And while it may seem to be giving Mr. Conway short shrift to mention them in the same paragraph, he seemed like a humble and affable man and I bet he’d be amused by the juxtaposition.

May 17: Herman Wouk, 103, American author, who won the Pulitzer Prize for his 1951 novel The Caine Mutiny and later saw his novels The Winds of War and War and Remembrance adapted into epic television miniseries at the height of that genre.

May 30: Leon Redbone, 69, was a Cypriot-American singer-songwriter and actor whom I’d wrongly assumed might be Cajun because of his style of comic jazz. Along with his musical hits, he appeared in the film Elf and sang “Baby It’s Cold Outside” with Zooey Deschanel before performing that song would put a man on the informal sex offenders registry of the collective subconscious.

May 31: Roky Erickson, 71, was a singer-songwriter who fronted the Austin, Texas-based 13th Floor Elevators, one of the best ‘60s psychedelic rock bands you’ve probably never heard of.

June 6: Dr. John, 77, the Louisiana-born piano player and singer-songwriter whose mix of rock, pop, R&B, soul, and Cajun stylings earned him a spot in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

June 12: Bridgette Jordan, 30, who for almost two months in 2011 held the Guinness World Record as the world’s shortest living woman (2’3”); and actress Sylvia Miles, 94, an Academy Award nominee for her performances in Midnight Cowboy and Farewell, My Lovely.

June 15: Italian theater and film director Franco Zeffirelli, 96, whose work included the cinematic Shakespeare adaptations Romeo & Juliet (1968) and The Taming of the Shrew (1967) and the biblical epic Jesus of Nazareth (1977) as a television miniseries.

June 17: Heiress Gloria Vanderbilt, 95, who worked as an artist and fashion designer, also the mother of CNN anchor Anderson Cooper.

June 22: Novelist Judith Krantz, 91, who worked as a reporter and fashion magazine editor until she started writing novels around the age of 50.

June 23: Rock & Roll Hall of Famer Dave Bartholomew, 100, a trumpeter turned songwriter who penned such hits as “I’m Walkin’” and “Ain’t That a Shame” (with Fats Domino) and “I Hear You Knockin’”); and Stephanie Niznik, 52, an actress best known for her role on the TV drama Everwood.

June 26: French actress Édith Scob, 81 (Eyes Without a Face, 1960); and American actor Max Wright, 75 (ALF on TV, All That Jazz at daring theaters).

July 1: Sid Ramin, 100, an American composer and arranger who provided the score for West Side Story, among other films.

July 6: American actor Cameron Boyce, 20 (Disney’s made-for-TV Descendants series); Brazilian singer-songwriter, guitarist and bossa nova pioneer João Gilberto, 88; and American actor Eddie Jones, 84, who played Jonathan Kent on Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman.

July 9: American comedic actor Rip Torn, 88, whose career spanned more than 60 years.

July 18: At least 36 people died in an arson fire at Kyoto Animation in Japan.

July 19: Rutger Hauer, 75, a Dutch actor who often played the heavy in films such as Blade Runner, Nighthawks, and The Hitcher but also played a romantic lead in the fantasy film Ladyhawke and founded an AIDS awareness organization.

July 22: Art Neville, 81, the eldest of the musical Neville Brothers and a founder of the legendary New Orleans band The Meters.

July 23: Chaser, 15, an American Border Collie who had the largest non-human memory ever tested; and Danika McGuigan, 33, Irish actress who starred in the sitcom Can’t Cope, Won’t Cope and the film dramas Philomena and The Secret Scripture.

July 24: Trudy, 63, an American gorilla who was the world’s oldest in captivity.

Aug. 1: D. A. Pennebaker, 94, a documentarian with a love of music whose camera captured a young Bob Dylan (Don’t Look Back, 1967), the Summer of Love (Monterey Pop, filmed in 1967 and released in 1968), and the majesty of David Bowie (Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders of Mars, a 1979 film based on his 1973 tour).

Aug. 5: Pulitzer Prize winner and Nobel laureate Toni Morrison, 88.

Aug. 8: Puerto Rican comics artist Ernie Colón, 88, whose work included the Native American fantasy saga Arak, Son of Thunder, and the fantasy series Amethyst, Princess of Gemworld, for DC Comics, Marvel Comics’ superhero cleanup comedy Damage Control, and work for Harvey Comics on kids’ characters such as Richie Rich and Casper, the Friendly Ghost.

Aug. 16: Peter Fonda, 79, a second-generation actor and screenwriter (Easy Rider, 3:10 to Yuma) who spent his last few years throwing out political firebombs.

Aug. 25: Clora Bryant, 92, an American jazz trumpeter who had been a member of the International Sweethearts of Rhythm, the first racially integrated all-female band in the United States, during the 1940s. A League of their Own made a great movie and revived the memory of women’s baseball — why hasn’t this story been turned into a movie musical yet?

Aug. 30: Valerie Harper, 80, a longtime television comedy actress (The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Rhoda) who made a late-in-life resurgence as a Dancing with the Stars contender while also battling cancer.

Sept. 3: Child model turned actress Carol Lynley, 77 (Harlow, 1965; Bunny Lake Is Missing, 1965; The Poseidon Adventure, 1972).

Sept. 9: Robert Frank, 94, a Swiss-American photographer whose book The Americans (published in France in 1968, in the U.S. in 1969) provided an outsider’s look at American life across the socioeconomic spectrum. He also directed an unreleased documentary of the 1972 Rolling Stones tour whose title I can’t use here because this is a family blog.

Sept. 10: Jeff Fenholt, 68, the original star of the stage musical Jesus Christ Superstar, who was the lead singer for a couple of bands before becoming a televangelist.

Sept. 11: Outsider artist and lo-fi musician Daniel Johnston, 58, whose struggles with mental illness were highlighted in the documentary film The Devil and Daniel Johnston (2005); and Mardik Martin, 84, an American screenwriter of Armenian descent, born in Iran to Iraqi parents, which made him the perfect person to write three quintessentially American films for Martin Scorsese in the 1970s: Mean Streets (1973), New York, New York (1977) and Raging Bull (1980).

Sept. 13: American singer and songwriter Eddie Money, 70, though regrettably not before he had to see William Shatner sing a few bars of “Two Tickets to Paradise” in a Priceline ad.

Sept. 15: Rock & Roll Hall of fame inductee Ric Ocasek, 75, of The Cars.

Sept. 17: Journalist and commentator Cokie Roberts, 75, of ABC News and NPR; and actress and TV host Suzanne Whang, 56 (House Hunters for HGTV, From Here on OUT for here! TV, the first LGBTQ-centered sitcom created for an LGBTQ-focused TV network in the U.S.).

Sept. 21: Actor Aron Eisenberg, 50, who played Nog on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

Sept. 23: Robert Hunter, 78, a Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee whose lyrics found a home in the repertoire of the Grateful Dead, Bob Dylan, Bruce Hornsby, and others. He was inducted with the Dead as the only non-musician so to enter the Hall of Fame. And rightly so: “Ripple” may be the most beautiful tune ever recorded in American popular music.

Sept. 25: Linda Porter, 86, an actress who started her career in earnest when others might be looking forward to retirement and found a series regular role on the sitcom Superstore and made appearances in the 2017 Twin Peaks revival (as a casino regular who has her lucky day) and the science fiction buddy epic Dude, Where’s My Car?

Oct. 1: Beverly "Guitar" Watkins, 80, a blues guitarist whose approach to playing was described by one viewer as “ballistic.”

Oct. 2: Kim Shattuck, 56, an American punk and alternative guitarist and singer who headed the band The Muffs and was part of the reformed Pixies until complications of ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) ended her ability to perform.

Oct. 3: Dana Fradon, 97, a prolific cartoonist for The New Yorker and former husband of longtime DC Comics artist Ramona Fradon (who worked on the Doom Patrol and Metamorpho’s odd adventures, among other things); and Philip Gips, 88, a graphic designer and film poster artist whose work helped promote Alien and Rosemary’s Baby.

Oct. 4: Diahann Carroll, 84, broke ground as the star of the TV show Julia, the first show centered around a black character who was not a domestic worker, co-starred in the primetime soap Dynasty, and in later years recurred on the USA Network crime drama White Collar.

Oct. 6: Jazz-trained English drummer Ginger Baker, 80, a member of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame who performed with supergroups Cream and Blind Faith; and American actor and comedian Rip Taylor, 88.

Oct. 11: Actor Robert Forster, 78, the star of Medium Cool and Disney’s The Black Hole who went away for a while but enjoyed a career resurgence after appearing in Quentin Tarantino’s film Jackie Brown; and Alexei Leonov, 85, the Russian cosmonaut who exited Voskhod 2 to perform the first spacewalk.

Oct. 29: John Witherspoon, 77, an American actor who appeared in the comedy Friday, on the TV sitcom The Wayans Bros., and provided the voice of Grandpa on The Boondocks.

Oct. 30: Canadian playwright Bernard Slade, 89 (Same Time Next Year) who also worked in television, contributing scripts for The Flying Nun and The Partridge Family.

Nov. 2: Brian Tarantina, 60, an actor whose credits included the dramedies Gilmore Girls and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.

Nov. 5: Laurel Griggs, 13, a child actress who appeared in the musical Once and on Saturday Night Live as well as Woody Allen’s film Café Society.

Nov. 7: Robert Freeman, 82, an English photographer and graphic designer who worked extensively with the Beatles.

Nov. 13: Journalist and comics critic Tom Spurgeon, 50, was an award-winning editor of the magazine The Comics Journal and the online The Comics Reporter.

Nov. 19: Tom Lyle, 66, was an American comics artist whose clean lines helped bring Spider-Man, the late 1980s version of the DC character Starman, and others to life. Remembrances on Facebook (full disclosure: he was a contact there) painted a picture of a friendly convention figure, always eager to chat with fans and fellow pros.

Nov. 20: Former Minnesota Vikings player Fred Cox, 80, who was also a co-inventor of the ubiquitous Nerf football; and Doug Lubahn, 71, who contributed bass guitar to three of The Doors’ studio albums but turned down the opportunity to tour with the band, citing other commitments.

Nov. 21: American cartoonist Gahan Wilson, 89, was the morbidly funny heir to Charles Addams’ legacy and a regular contributor to The New Yorker, Collier’s and Playboy.

Nov. 26: Howard Cruse, 75, an underground comix legend who broke ground for LGBTQ creators and content in the 1970s-80s. His debut graphic novel Stuck Rubber Baby (1995) is one of those rare books that made me a better person for having read it, helping instill an empathy in me that my raising as a heterosexual Southerner had not; the book wasn’t an autobiography, but Cruse’s own Southern childhood helped inform the story.

Nov. 29: American Songwriters Hall of Famer Irving Burgie, 95, wrote the national anthem of Barbados (“In Plenty and in Time of Need”) but is probably better known to Americans for the songs he wrote for calypso legend and activist Harry Belafonte, including “Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)” and “Jamaica Farewell.”

Dec. 1: Lil Bub, 8, an American cat who became an internet celebrity; and actress Shelley Morrison, 83, who most recently appeared on Will & Grace but whose career went back to The Flying Nun and a turn on General Hospital.

Dec. 2: Television writer D. C. Fontana, 80, a pioneer for women in the writers’ room of science fiction series with her time on the original Star Trek series; and Kenneth Allen Taylor, 65, a philosopher and radio broadcaster (co-host of “Philosophy Talk,” available as a free podcast).

Dec. 5: George Laurer, 94, invented the Universal Product Code (aka “the bar code”) that is now found on almost any mass-produced item you can think of and was debated in the church of my childhood as possibly being the Mark of the Beast mentioned in Revelation.

Dec. 6: Actor Ron Leibman, 82, won the Tony Award in 1993 for his performance as Roy Cohn in the play Angels in America.

Dec. 8: René Auberjonois, 79, a 1970 Tony Award winner who appeared that same year in the film M*A*S*H and later won over more fans with his starring TV roles on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Boston Legal; and Caroll Spinney, 85, a longtime Sesame Street puppeteer (Big Bird, Oscar the Grouch) who was also an author and cartoonist.

Dec. 9: Pete Frates, 34, a former Boston College baseball player whose diagnosis with ALS (aka Lou Gehrig’s disease) inspired him to create the Ice Bucket Challenge, which became a viral fundraiser and awareness booster for research into the disease.

Dec. 12: Danny Aiello, 86, an Italian-American actor whose far-ranging career included The Godfather, Part II, the Spike Lee joint Do the Right Thing, and wooing Cher in Moonstruck.

Dec. 13: PHASE 2, 64, was a spray-paint graffiti artist most active in New York during the 1970s, and the next time you see big balloon-like letters painted on a wall or a railroad car, you’re seeing the innovation he brought to the form; they’re called “softies,” by the way.

Dec. 14: John Briley, 94, was an American screenwriter whose works included Gandhi (which won him an Academy Award), Cry Freedom (about martyred South African anti-apartheid activist Steven Biko), and Marie (about a Tennessee parole official who lost her job after refusing to free inmates who had bribed the governor). Does there seem to be a theme there, of heroic individuals facing down corrupt systems?

Dec. 22: Born Richard Alpert, the spiritual teacher Ram Dass, 88, had been a psychologist pioneering in the research of LSD before he became a yogi; his Be Here Now is a classic on meditation and mindfulness.

Dec. 25: TV producer Lee Mendelson, 86, helped bring Charlie Brown, Snoopy, and the rest of the Peanuts gang to our television screens; and William Greider, 83, wasn’t just any economic reporter — he was the economic reporter for Rolling Stone at one point.

Dec. 26: Broadway composer and lyricist Jerry Herman, 88, was behind such shows as Hello Dolly! and La Cage aux Folles; actress Sue Lyon, 73, entered show business as a model at the age of 13 and later played the title role in Stanley Kubrick’s film adaptation of Lolita. She was older than the character was in the book — a change made to accommodate the Hayes Code — but still too young when it came out to legally watch the movie.

Dec. 27: Radio personality Don Imus, 79, saw his career end after one too many occasions of not taking my dad’s advice — just because you can do something (or in his case, say something), that doesn’t mean you should; and trumpeter Jack Sheldon, 88, played on The Merv Griffin Show but is better known to my generation as a voice actor in the animated Schoolhouse Rock! series and singing “I’m Just a Bill,” which was meant to teach children about how laws are written and passed, though it’s a bit light on the bribes and childish fits.

Dec. 29: British comic actor and musician Neil Innes, 75, worked with Monty Python, including writing songs with Eric Idle for their Beatles parody The Rutles in the 1970s.


CultureGeeks Pick the Best Movies of 2019

We're ringing in the new year with some ruminations on the best and worst movies of 2019 from some of the CultureGeeks. We bet you'll have some opinions too. Share in the comments!

 

Jason R. Tippitt

After: This young-adult adaptation starring Josephine Langford (sister of 13 Reasons Why star Katherine Langford) was as confusing and overcrowded as anyone’s dating experiences of their first year of college, I suppose. A lot of Pretty, not a lot of point.

Avengers: Endgame: Pretty close to a perfect superhero jam, this even made room for a couple of seconds of Howard the Duck looking resolute in the face of evil. While the movie teased me with a Katherine Langford appearance that never came in the theatrical release, the Russo Brothers were probably right in shelving the scene for purposes of clarity in storytelling. The Marvel Cinematic Universe is a few icons lighter now, but the threads tying these characters together now create a wealth of exciting possibilities for the next 10 years and beyond.

Booksmart: A cut above the typical “teens committing misdemeanors and minor felonies as a rite of passage” comedy, this heartfelt movie gave us two warm and deeply lived-in characters through Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein’s performances. The two shared an apartment throughout the production to build up a real friendship that comes through in their performances and lasts to this day.

Captain Marvel: Brie Larson carried the weight of the Marvel Cinematic Universe on her shoulders in this film as the first Marvel heroine to front a solo film and as one of the clear foundations of the next wave of movies. The movie was less strident in its feminism than the original comic book adventures of Carol Danvers as Ms. Marvel despite the reaction by a small number of misogynists online, and indeed is a character open to multiple interpretations: Maybe she and her former Air Force pilot partner were more than friends, or maybe she’s a little bit flirty with rookie Nick Fury (a de-aged Samuel L. Jackson), and maybe she’s flirting with both of them or … perhaps the bravest choice at all … neither of them because there are important things going on and she’s a warrior. Plus, there’s a great soundtrack.

Deadwood: The Movie: Haunting, at turns melancholy and ribald, this film may well serve as David Milch’s swan song, given his Alzheimer’s diagnosis. The decision to hang the film’s plot around lingering issues from the TV show’s third series rather than create a new conflict was a bit of a disappointment for me, and it ruled out any accessibility for a newcomer, but as a visit with old friends … albeit with a few empty spaces at the table … it was sufficient.

El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie: This is less a sequel than a coda to the television series, and I’m not sure how well it functions as a standalone movie. But it gave us a chance to see Robert Forster perform, and that was never a bad way to spend some time.

Godzilla: King of the Monsters: You know you’re in trouble when the filmmakers spend more than a few minutes trying to develop intricate relationships and heartfelt character moments for the humans in a kaiju film. I liked a lot of the folks in this movie and would love to see that cast doing something else together, but quit talking about your family problems and show me some giant monsters already. 

It Chapter Two: Hollywood did the impossible twice with this movie. Not only did they find a credible adult Finn Wolfhard in SNL alumnus Bill Hader, they also cast James Ransone in a role that was downright heroic by film’s end. (The people higher up on the marquee were pretty good, too.) Moving the timelines forward to land the adult Losers in a contemporary setting is a move I viewed with mixed feelings, but the real impact of that decision was felt more in the first half of the story and the flashbacks here. There was a nice fleshing out of all of the Losers by film’s end (Mike was the most ill-served of them all, but not as badly as originally planned), the climactic battle with Pennywise was cathartic for anyone who was ever bullied, and let’s just let the rumors of a film franchise wash away like water down a drain, OK?

Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood: I’ve missed a couple of Tarantino films but found this love letter to late-60s Hollywood funny and at times moving with a killer soundtrack. Sure, it plays fast and loose with history and then throws it out the window, but he’s been doing that since Inglourious Basterds. Some of the biggest controversies didn’t make me bat an eye … I took the Bruce Lee scene to be all in the Brad Pitt character’s imagination, and nothing about him screamed Completely Unimpeachable Narrator to me … and the fact that Sharon Tate’s sister approved of the film absolved it of being an exercise exploitation as far as I’m concerned.

Shazam!: I’m not going to say that every DCEU film should be like this one. That would be as foolish as, I don’t know, trying to do a Superman movie or two or a Justice League movie that felt like Watchmen. #sorrynotsorry #notevenalittlebitsorry My only regret with this movie is that it’s taking so long to get the second movie out to the screens that sweet, motor-mouthed Daria might have her driver’s license before we see these characters on screen again. I know that the corporate parents were worried after the critical failures of Batman vs. Superman and Justice League, but Captain Marvel (that’s the guy in red’s real name, darn it!) was the biggest selling comics star of the 1940s. They should have had the faith to fast-track a series the way the folks behind the Harry Potter movies did.

Spider-Man: Far From Home: Thankfully, Marvel and Sony heeded the (drunken) call (from star Tom Holland, no less) and backed out of their own unforced near-error and are keeping Peter Parker and friends firmly rooted in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Tom Holland and his peers took a European vacation to do the Griswalds proud in this post-Endgame entry to the MCU canon. Near-Spider-alum Jake Gyllenhaal and franchise veteran Samuel L. Jackson both gave us some great moments of bombast, and future Queen of Everything Zendaya got to step to the forefront after being a background player in Homecoming.

Tall Girl: A good-enough high school story centered on, well, a young woman whose stature has often intimidated the males of the species. Bullying comes in all forms, after all, and it was refreshing to see this particular variation even acknowledged.

Them That Follow: Kaitlyn Dever (seen in Bookworm, and who also delivered one of the year’s best TV performances on Unbelievable for Netflix) delivers another haunting performance in this backwoods Appalachian story of secrets inside a snake-handling Pentecostal church. She’s in familiar geographical territory, having previously recurred on Justified — which costarred Walton Goggins, who brims with intensity.

 

Jim D. Gillentine's Top Ten

Godzilla: King of the Monsters: Okay, let’s get this out of the way. I loved this film. Anyone that knows me knows that I was going to rank this on the top of my list. What is not in this film that I don’t love? Big monster battles, call backs to the old films, four classic Toho monsters, and Godzilla doing what he does best: stomping and rocking the town. Full review here.

Alita: Battle Angel: A cool action movie based off of one of my favorite animes. Great special effects and a touching story of a young, cyborg woman becoming the hero her world needs her to become. Full review here.

Captain Marvel: A fantastic Marvel film that made me a big fan of the character. This movie was a fun romp through the 80’s and seeing just how Nick Fury got his eye patch.

Shazam!: One of my favorite DC superheroes got his own film and it was a fun romp seeing the Big Red Cheese cracking jokes and learning what it takes to be a hero.

Avengers: Endgame: The culmination of ten years of Marvel films. The big battle of all big battles...and it rocked my world! The ‘Avengers...Assemble!’ scene still gives me chills and I still tear up at the end of the movie.

Toy Story 4: I went into this movie asking myself if we really needed a fourth Toy Story movie. The answer was... of course we do.

Spider-Man: Far From Home: A fun, exciting Spider-Man movie that was a perfect follow up to Endgame.

The Lion King: This was the shiny, new CGI remake. I enjoyed it, but it was not as good as the original movie.

Joker: A dark descent into madness. An interesting look at what makes someone a villain and one of the best performances I have ever seen in a movie by an actor in Joaquin Phoenix. Chilling and mesmerizing. Full roundup review.

Frozen 2: I loved it. A fun adventure that made me laugh and cry. I hope we can for a part three that is just as good as the first two.

Bonus pick: Tolkien. Just as I am a huge geek for Godzilla, Tolkien’s works rank right up there with the Big G. This bio-pic covering the early life of J.R.R. Tolkien is a wonderful look into what shaped the early life of one of the greatest fantasy authors to have ever lived. A blend of his early teen years and his time in the trenches of WWI, it showed the struggles Tolkien had with the priest who raised him and wanted him to follow the calling of the priesthood, and his heart for the young woman that he wished to marry. But the imagery of the war was what would grab you in this film. Seeing the things that a young Tolkien saw on the battle field, you can see where the ideas of Mordor came from. All of that leads up to Tolkien writing the first line of The Hobbit, and now I’m crying at the thought of it. 

 

Elizabeth Donald

Best of 2019:

• Captain Marvel. I'll repeat what I said before: it was fun, it was enjoyable, and it doesn't have to be put into a cage match with the astounding Wonder Woman to stand on its own feet as a good movie. Full roundup review here.

Avengers: Endgame. This one pretty much blew away all the competition, and I have very few complaints. So many people saw it that we didn't even bother doing a roundup here on CultureGeek! (Although I did do a quick roundup explaining why you didn't need to see the extended cut.) But I think it wins the gauntlet as best film of the year in my humble opinion. 

• Spider-man: Far From Home. I'm noticing that my best-of picks have been mostly Marvel movies, and that's concerning to me. Marvel has got to give us a stinker sometime, right? In the meantime, these movies aren't crowding out serious cinema, Mr. Scorcese, and they aren't dumbing down America - we have Facebook for that. The Marvel movies are, simply, the best entertainment of the era. and even post-Endgame, Spidey slings his web across Europe and manages to give us hope for the next round. Full roundup review here.

• Aladdin. Will Smith is not Robin Williams (RIP) and he doesn't try. Instead, Disney took one of its more problematic modern masterpieces and tried to bring it into the 21st century with greater nuance. It mostly succeeds, and it's a crime that lead actor Mena Massoud has apparently gotten few offers for more work, because he was terrific as the famous "street rat." But the best change Disney made was to center the story on Jasmine, who is now the heroine of the movie. Instead of "will Jasmine get to marry Aladdin," the central conflict lies in Jasmine's fight to become sultan of her country, to step into the leadership role for which she has been striving all her life and fighting against misogynistic cultures and traditions as well as condescending dismissal.... wait, sorcery? Magic lamps? Yeah, it's all there... but Jasmine is worth the watch, and her musical number is at least as empowering as Frozen's "Let it Go." Fight me.

• Terminator: Dark Fate. One of the advantages of a time-travel series is that you can always spin off a separate timeline. In this one, we are no longer protecting John (which is abundantly clear in the first five minutes so c'mon, spoilers are over). We have a Terminator in deep cover, we have cyborg Grace as the best protector we've had in eight movies, and we have Dani, who is the new target. Best of all, we have the return of Sarah Connor by Linda Hamilton, as it always should have been. If this was the year of the woman for action movies, Dark Fate should have been its crowning achievement. Unfortunately there were plot holes and a bit of predictability that marred the fun, which is generally what happens when the script is written by committee (and p.s. all men, again). It made $261 million worldwide, which would have covered production costs, but not the $80 million in marketing. (Good lord.) So I doubt we will see more of the surviving characters, and that's a damn shame.

 

Just okay:

• Dark Phoenix. Yeah, I know. Everyone except me hated this movie. But in my not-so-humble opinion, when you set aside the comics and allow a movie to stand on its own, it wasn't bad at all. It was certainly better than the previous attempt to do the Dark Phoenix saga (the abominable X3), and suffered mightily for a Phoenix story without Wolverine because it would have been creepy for 51-year-old Hugh Jackman to pine away after twentysomething Sophie Turner. There are multiple flaws, certainly, which I detailed in this full review.. But in all, it's an enjoyable film and did not deserve the hate it received. 

• The Lion King. There was nothing new, and that was its biggest flaw. But the absolutely amazing cast steps into the pawprints of its predecessor ably, with Donald Glover and Beyonce as the leading lions, Alfre Woodard as Sarabi, John Oliver as Zazu and James Earl Jones returning as the One True King. As I detailed in my full review, Disney's live-action remakes have generally been saved from direct-to-video dreck by taking new perspectives and twists on their traditional stories, from Cinderella to Maleficent to Beauty and the Beast and the aforementioned Aladdin. The Lion King could have used a little more difference and a little less shot-for-shot remake, but its visuals and the terrific voice cast make it worth a watch. 

• Shazam! I honestly didn't think I was going to enjoy this one - I've been burned by DC before. But Zachary Levi brings his irrepressible charm to the role and the film managed to work in actual human emotion and expanding the concept of family into the heartbreaking world of foster care. Here's the full review by Jim Gillentine.

Tolkien. I married the biggest Tolkien nerd in the midwest - he gave me an Evenstar as an early present - so it was a given that we would see this movie. I was pleasantly surprised by the skill of the period drama, a way to present linguistics (of all things) as fascinating and germane to the plot, and the skill of the actors to portray lauded men of a bygone era with grounded accessibility. 

• IT: Chapter Two. It saddens me that I didn't enjoy the new movies as much as the cheesy 1990s miniseries, since the book is my single favorite novel of all time. Bonus points for the funhouse scene, minus several for the destruction of Mike and Eddie's personalities, and minus several million for completely sidelining Bev's husband, Tom. As I detailed in my full review, Tom is the living embodiment of the Losers' failure to escape their past, the walking example of all that was awful in their childhood that they willingly kept. I would have been happier with 20 fewer minutes of "Cthulu as imagined by Sam Raimi" and replace them actual character development... or a Pennywise that actually scared me. 

• Joker. Ponderous pacing and logical flaws with a muddled message downgrade Joaquin Phoenix's brilliant portrayal of the mad Clown Prince into "eh" territory. Was it a feature-length mockery of the resistance movement, alleging that the poor and angry 99 percent are sheep manipulated by a madman? Or was it a warning to the 1 percent that riches and privilege will not protect you when the people grow tired of the scraps from your table? Read the roundup review if you want more... it is a movie I was glad to see, and have no desire to see again.

• Toy Story 4. It was a delight to see the Toys back in town one more time, but it failed to hold the nostalgia that it holds for younger viewers (now in their 20s) who grew up with the original movies. See Ian Smith's review linked below for more.

• Maleficent: Mistress of Evil. Not quite what I was hoping for after the fascinating Maleficent, it was still an interesting return to the Maleficent world, in a battle between three women for power and control. Maleficent faces off against Queen Ingrith, soon to be Aurora's mother-in-law, and Aurora is caught in the middle. The king? The prince? They are as sidelined as the princesses have always been in these movies, so for that alone I'd enjoy it, and the cinematography was absolutely astounding (as is Angelina Jolie as Maleficent). Unfortunately the plot became very paint-by-numbers, and one can see the meddling in the script as Ingrith's motivations become oddly muddled. It was poorly reviewed, but audience scores were sky-high and it made nearly half a billion dollars worldwide, so I imagine we may see more of the great horned lady. 

• Doctor Sleep. The biggest achievement this movie had was making me like the book better, and I really, really didn't care for the book by my favorite author. Fortunately the film left out some of King's weird retcons (like making the kid related to Danny Torrance through some retconned affair by his father back in the day) and streamlined the timeline a good bit. Unfortunately, the filmmakers chose to make it a sequel to the Stanley Kubrick film instead of the actual book, and since I have many, many issues with the Kubrick film, the twenty-minute fan-service walk through the Overlook was not nearly as fascinating to me as it would be to fans of the Kubrick film. 

• Frozen 2. A worthy successor to the first film, which has grown on me over the years into a favorite, this sequel was stunning to view and held some serious character development moments, albeit a touch predictable and, in places, dark enough to question whether really little ones should see it. I also have quibbles about the ending, but that would be seriously spoilery, so I shall shut up. Still, it was a great return visit to Arendelle, and one we will be adding to our collection.

• Little Women. I am a long-time fan of this story and especially the 1994 version, so I was happy to see Gina Gerwig's updating... and it is an update, with many lines of dialogue and a few plot points drawn more from Louisa May Alcott's life than her novel. Saoirse Ronan is a worthy successor to Jo March, and extra credit must go to Laura Dern for a brilliant and believable Marmee. Sadly Timothee Chalumet was miscast as Laurie, working as hard as he can for a difficult role but simply has no believable chemistry with Ronan or Florence Pugh as Amy (whose speech about marriage as an economic issue is straight from Alcott and very much needs to be heard). Likewise the "twist" at the end is more Alcott than March, and fascinating. Downside: Gerwig chose to tell the story in flashbacks and hopping back and forth in time, which means if you have been living under a rock and never read the book or seen the other eight or so movies, you're lost.

 

Worst of 2019:

• Glass. I really wanted to love it, and I wanted M. Night Shyamalan to stick the landing. I loved Sixth Sense, I liked Unbreakable and I thought Split was a master course in acting from James McAvoy. And he's really the only reason to watch Glass, which sorely wasted four amazing actors in a predictable and generally dull story with a twist that was simply annoying rather than illuminating. 

• Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker. I think I would have held this one much higher right after seeing it, so perhaps I'm being unfair. But the longer I think about the many, many ways RoS strove to undo everything that Last Jedi did, about the unconscionable sidelining of Kelly Marie Tran due to the whining of racist fanboys, giant plot holes created for fan service and a "twist" that not only erased the entire point of Last Jedi but made no bloody sense... nope, I don't care if I ever see it again. I don't mean to yuck others' yum, since I know many people truly loved the movie and the fan service moments were a nostalgia hit that they seriously craved. To each their own, and I am truly glad they enjoyed it. 

• Godzilla: King of the Monsters. This is not going to win me any points at home, but it's an amazing trick to make a movie about giant monsters battling across the world so dull that I got sleepy. 

 

Rahul Menon

Best of 2019: Bong Joon-ho's Parasite shouldn't be discussed as a Best Foreign Picture contender, it should be discussed as a Best film contender, and to be honest, it's not a contender, but a frontrunner.

Parasite succeeds in showing us that the worst monster of our reality is the system that we have built. The movie is an unmissable accomplishment in direction, writing, acting, cinematography, editing, music, and pretty much everything else a movie is meant to do. Perhaps the greatest compliment one can pay Parasite is you're never sure what's going to happen next.

20 of my favorite and standout movies of 2019:

Parasite
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Uncut Gems
1917
Marriage Story
Ford v. Ferrari
Doctor Sleep
The Farewell
Jojo Rabbit
Knives Out
Booksmart
Ready or Not
Us
The Irishman
The Lighthouse
Peanut Butter Falcon
Avengers: Endgame
Honey Boy
Crawl
Rocketman

Honorable Mentions: Yesterday, The Report, Portrait of a Lady on Fire, Little Women, The Souvenir, The Last Black Man in San Francisco, and Hustlers

 

Other CultureGeek picks:

Ian Smith: Toy Story 4

 

And onward to 2020! 


That's a wrap!

Your friendly neighborhood CultureGeeks have been busy, folks. 

It just so happens that frequent contributor Rahul Menon is a film director. He's been writing and directing short films as he finishes his masters degree here in sunny Illinois. We're happy to report one of Rahul's shorts, Cowbot, won a best in category award at an international film festival just a few weeks ago. (Your humble blogger provided a voiceover, and thus begins the 15 minutes.)

Today was the final day of shooting for Rahul's latest film, The Final Act. Shot here in sunny Edwardsville, Illinois, it stars (among others) CultureGeek contributor Ian Smith, and I'm a nameless extra despite my best efforts to duck the camera. It's a half-hour film about the waning days of an actor succumbing to alcoholism. 

We're all very excited for Rahul's latest effort and Ian's film debut, and we'll be sure to share it here once it's released. 


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John Williams, live in concert in St. Louis

Some twenty odd years ago, a boy in India was watching his first-ever Hollywood movie in a theatre, and that movie was Jurassic Park.

He had no idea that the island of Isla Nublar wasn't real, he had no idea how these dinosaurs were made, he had no idea who Steven Spielberg was, he had no idea that few years down the line he was going to fall head over heels in love with the entire art and process of filmmaking, and he most definitely did not think he would ever get a chance to see the John Williams play the Jurassic Park theme live.

It's impossible to talk about Jurassic Park, and not talk about John Williams, easily one of the greatest film composers the world has ever heard. The movie wouldn't have been what it is without the support of Williams' soaring score. The world raved about the special effects team that created the dinosaurs, but they lived and breathed because of John Williams' remarkable score.

And that has always been the case with his compositions: they breathe life into the characters, situations, and every single frame of the film. Even when the score was being played live without any accompanying visuals, I could still see Sam Neill and Laura Dern getting out of their jeep and seeing the dinosaurs for the first time. It still gives me goosebumps and makes me emotional, and I'm sure it always will.

John Williams is responsible for some of the most iconic and beloved scores ever composed. There's no way I can't mention the moment when he finished playing Princess Leia's theme, turned around looked at all of us, smiled, winked, and then turned back, waved his magical hands to conduct the Star Wars theme, and transported all of us to a galaxy far, far away in an instant.

Even the stories he told before each track were magical. "I saw Daisy Ridley, and instantly I was in love with her. She's 10 years younger than my youngest grand-kid. So, then I went and composed Rey's Theme for her."

"Now this one's for my dear friend Harrison Ford," "I composed Leia's theme thinking Luke and Leia are going to fall in love with each other, I didn't know what George had in his mind. I only got to know about it 3 years later! So I composed another theme for them."

"Steven and me have been working together for almost 45 years now, that's quite a relationship. Pheww!" (Paraphrased.)

Williams' score conveys exactly what the on-screen characters feel, and what most audience members are feeling at that moment when they are watching those visuals play out. His soundtracks, just like most of the movies he's worked on, will live on forever in all our hearts and memories.

You haven't really lived until you've cried to the Jurassic Park theme conducted live by John Williams. So thank you to the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra for bringing this legend to us, and thank you John Williams for gracing us with your legendary presence.

 

Rahul Menon was born and raised in New Delhi, India, and currently lives in Illinois. He is an assistant director, screenwriter and occasional actor, as well as a computer science engineer who worked as a software analyst and in advertising and marketing prior to entering the film industry. His screen debut was as screenwriter and assistant director of Saayanna Varthakal (Evening News) in 2018. He is currently pursuing a masters degree at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. FacebookInstagramIMDB.