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. 


IMG_8209 IMG_8209 IMG_8209

 

 


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.


TheaterGeek: Dear Evan Hansen

An year ago when I landed here, I had three musicals on my bucket list, whose music has resonated and connected with me in some form.

They are three of the most incredible musicals that have come out in the last few years, have pretty much hogged all the major awards, and have been fan and critic favourites. Having already seen Hamilton and Come From Away, I was eagerly waiting to check-off the third one on that list: six-time Tony-winning Broadway smash, Dear Evan Hansen.

Hansen

Dear Evan Hansen is a story about a lonely teenager who inadvertently becomes a social media sensation and a symbol of kindness, a performance for which Ben Platt very deservingly won the Best Actor award. This is one of those rare Broadway musicals not derived or inspired from any other source material, which is refreshing in itself.

Even though the story of a teenage suicide and a lonely teen caught up in a web of self-devised deception has its sad aspects, Dear Evan Hansen is anything but a downer. The feelings it stirs are cathartic expressions of a healthy compassion for Evan’s efforts to do some good in life, which all of us can relate to, and his anguish that he may be causing more pain than he can cure.

Benj Pasek and Justin Paul of La La Land fame have written such haunting lyrics and score, that it sledgehammers its way into our heart. The majority of the songs are soft melodies, reflective ballads, with guitar and strings leading the way, they are varied and gentle, with each of the songs opening up a window that gives a new perspective on the characters and their predicaments.

Dear Evan Hansen should appeal to just about anyone who has ever felt, at some point in life, that he or she was trapped “on the outside looking in,” as Evan says it in one of the songs – which, to be honest, is just about each and every one of us.

Just like the poster says, Dear Evan Hansen most definitely is one of the most remarkable shows in musical theater history. 

 

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.


Halloween Roundup! What's your favorite scary movie?

We asked our panel of Smart People the quintessential question from Scream: What's your favorite scary movie? No one answered with that movie's choice: "Showgirls. Absolutely terrifying."

Elizabeth Donald: Oculus (2014)

I could have gone with so many choices here, because scary movies are my jam. I generally don't go for the torture porn or slashers - Saw just makes me angry and while I'm a sucker for Halloween, I like the stalking creepiness far more than the actual carnage. I will arm-wrestle Jason (below) any day of the week and twice on Sunday over The Exorcist, because I really like horror movies that grab hold of the subconscious, the political and social fears that torment us in the wee hours of the morning, and give them a supernatural face.

If Exorcist was about parents facing the changes of the 1960s through their suddenly-incomprehensible children, then The Purge movies are a conglomeration of all our social and political fears compiled into one. The Haunting of Hill House - a surprisingly good and absolutely not faithful adaptation of Shirley Jackson - is about family drama and depression manifested in a haunted house. I don't even need to get into the social politic of Get Out or Us (and Jordan Peele isn't really fond of Us Halloween costumes), because that's been well-discussed everywhere. There's Invasion of the Body Snatchers (which has a different permutation in every generation that remakes it), and the Dawn of the Dead remake, which shines far above the original with the single most horrifying opening sequence of any movie ever (as Jason says, #sorrynotsorry). 

But I'm going to go with Oculus, as the movie I find most genuinely frightening and that I desperately want to rewatch this OculusHalloween season. At a certain point even acknowledged classics like Nightmare on Elm Street or Alien lose their fear because I've seen them so many times I know when the killer is going to hop up and go stabbity. While watching Halloween has become a family tradition while we wait for the trick-or-treaters, I can easily go get a snack because I know from the (terrific) John Carpenter music when the next boo is coming.

Oculus rose and fell in 2013, barely noticed by most viewers, and that's a shame. Starring Doctor Who alumna Karen Gillan and Maleficent's Brendan Thwaite (a Brit and an Aussie playing American twentysomethings), it's basically the story of a haunted mirror that ... collects souls? Possesses its owners with homicidal mania? We aren't quite sure, but we know the mirror is bad news.

Mirrors are creepy things, aren't they? They show us the world around us and ourselves, but only a reflection as perceived by the eye. What if what we see in a mirror isn't exactly how it is... or how it's supposed to be? 

Oculus takes that unreality a step further, where we can no longer trust anything we see - and neither can our hapless siblings, trying to solve the mystery of what happened to their parents long ago when the mirror first came to their home. Rory Cochrane (of Argo) and Battlestar Galactica alumna Katee Sackhoff play the doomed parents in flashbacks... or are they? They could easily have devolved into standard-issue horror victims, but Cochrane and Sackhoff manage to make their roles into three-dimensional humans caught somewhere between marital strife, mental illness, domestic violence and demonic possession. Does it seem like that list has a step too far? They bring us there, and it's creepy as hell. 

A combination of excellent actors and the visuals of a perfectly ordinary house with an extraordinary mirror make for a suburban-terror tale that leaves me doubting everything I see, from the apple in my hand to the mirror on the wall. I can't recommend it strongly enough.

 

Jason R. Tippitt: Various

I'm not a huge fan of traditional horror (#sorrynotsorry). I should have realized I had a problem when everyone told me The Exorcist would scare the hell out of me (pun intended) and instead it bored me to tears despite the Max Van Sydowness of it all.

The splatter genre isn't my thing, slasher films make me feel insulted, and torture porn makes me feel dirty but not in a good way. People scare me more than zombies or ghosts or vampires.

SabrinaMy ideal Halloween-season viewing would be something like HBO's excellent Mindhunter television series, which uses a mixture of real characters and composites to re-enact the creation of the FBI's behavioral crimes unit, the people who hunt serial killers (and who came up with that term). Love or hate Bret Easton Ellis, the movie Less Than Zero was a formative movie for me in the 1980s that did more to scare me away from illegal drugs or even underage drinking than any number of hell houses or smashed-up cars parked outside my high school did. It made me care about a group of friends (Andrew McCarthy, Jami Gertz, and Robert Downey Jr.) and grieve as addiction did its worst. Kicking soundtrack, too.

Any production of Hamlet will do -- whether the ghost is a true spirit from the land of the dead or the prince's subconscious, take your pick, the route the young Dane takes is going to end up just as bloody.

Of course, there are always exceptions. The next time I watch Netflix's The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, my eyes will not be the only ones riveted on the screen. Reading calorie counts -- well, let's not go crazy here. Have a happy Halloween!

 

Jim D. Gillentine: Phantasm (1979)

Made famous because of the flying silver ball that could kill you by drilling into your head and sucking your brains out, the movie became a cult classic and spawned a five-movie film franchise that just recently wrapped up. The movie is about a young Tallmanboy named Jody trying to deal with the loss of his parents and his recently killed brother. When he sneaks to the funeral to watch, he sees the caretaker of the funeral home pick the coffin up by himself and put it back into the hearse. And thus the mystery starts with Jody trying to find out what is going on in his small town and trying to deal with the possibility of his older brother Mike leaving him with family to find better things in life.

Why is this movie one of my favorite scary movies? I think it has to do with Angus Scrimm, who played the Tall Man, who [redacted for spoilers]. His screen presence was so strong, and you can see that he threw himself into the role with all of his heart and soul.

I watched this movie when I was a young teen, on channel 24 Creature Feature one Saturday night in my room all alone. Because of Scrimm, I had to turn the light on. When he would call to Jody, in that tenebrous voice saying, “BOOOOOOY!” it would send chills down my spine. You never knew what was real and not real. Anything you saw could have been an illusion, and you were always trying to determine if what Jody was dealing with reality or a trick from the Tall Man.

Phantasm also provides me with one of the funniest moments from my teenage years. My brother Lee had a friend staying over one night and I saw that the movie was showing on the late-night Creature Feature again. I bet him and his friend that they couldn’t watch the movie all the way through with the light off. They both scoffed at me and said they could make it. About 30 minutes into the movie, Lee had to go use the bathroom during the commercial break. When he returned, he turned the lamp on before sitting down. I laughed and he promptly told me to shut the f--- up. So thank you to the Tall Man, for scaring me and giving me a good laugh.

 

Honorable mentions:

Jaws (1975) - Da-dum. Da-dum. Da-dum da-dum da-dum da-dum... 

Jacob's Ladder (1990) - A bereaved Vietnam veteran fights his own mind as he struggles with the death of his son.

The Ring (2002) - Urban legend becomes movie as a journalist investigates a "cursed videotape" that kills the viewer within seven days. Based on the Ringu series in Japan, it was unusual at the time for relying on creep factor rather than the torture porn that was all the rage. 

Twilight Zone, "The Incident at Owl Creek Bridge" - Based on the Ambrose Bierce short story, any further details would be spoilery.

Watcher in the Woods (1980) - An American family moves into a house in England where a girl once disappeared... 

They Live (1988) - Science fiction action thriller... follow the bouncing genres, Roddy Piper is a drifter who acquires magic sunglasses that reveal the world is being run by grotesque alien critters who masquerade as us and use subliminal messages to get us to consume products, breed, etc. 

The Conjuring and Annabelle series - If you can forget that the Warrens were real people and the movies are boolsheet, these are very creepy possession/haunting flicks. 

The Scream series - Envisioned as a send-up of '80s teen slasher flicks, they accidentally reinvigorated the genre by simultaneously satirizing and improving upon them.

The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988) - An anthropologist chases rumors of a "zombie drug" to Haiti, where he falls deep into black magic and live burial. Starring Bill Pullman, it was loosely based on a nonfiction account by a Harvard anthropologist who delved into zombification folk-medicine practices in Haiti (but was criticized by some of his peers).  

IT - Elizabeth says: I gotta go with the TV series, plus or minus the world's second-silliest fake spider. The kids are amazing (especially the late Jonathan Brandis) and the adults fare pretty well in their fight against the amazing Tim Curry as Pennywise. Nothing against the new crew, which did the best it could with the inexplicable changes made to the script, but I can't be afraid of the buck-toothed New Pennywise. Curry was terrifying just standing by the side of the road, waving with a balloon in hand. 

Copycat (1995) - Sigourney Weaver as an agorophobic profiler and Holly Hunter as a cynical detective team up against a serial killer who copies the various methods of actual serial killers in a suspenseful flick that is as much a tour of the strange psychology of serials as it is making us afraid of them. 

The Omen (1976) - A movie so evil that David Warner plays the good guy.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, "Hush" - We only allow a few TV episodes on this list or it would be nothing but The Twilight Zone. But "Hush" seems to make everyone's list, as the Gentlemen float in and rip your heart out without offering the release of a scream.

Blair Witch Project (1999) - It either worked for you or it didn't, and if it did, it was a shotgun blast to the head. 

28 Days Later (2002) - A pioneer of the "fast zombie" fun of the early 2000s, Danny Boyle's British take on the zombie subgenre deals with the darkness in human souls as much as the survivalist focus of most zombie flicks. 

Carnival of Souls (1962) - A woman survives a terrible accident, but is drawn to an abandoned carnival. Remade in 1998, but no one saw it. 

The Wicker Man (1973) - A Scottish detective flies to a remote village on reports that a young girl is missing... but no one admits to ever having heard of her, and they have some odd rites... 

Approximately half of the Stephen King oeuvre, including The Shining, which is beloved by Kubrick fans and someday Elizabeth will write her definitive reasoning why the TV miniseries was superior in almost every way, right before she enters witness protection.


Breaking Bad: El Camino

An extended meditative and emotionally satisfying epilogue, quite worthy of the Breaking Bad brand, El Camino feels more like lost pages from the original story.

This Netflix "event" movie reunites fans with Jesse Pinkman (Emmy winner Aaron Paul). In the wake of his dramatic escape from captivity, Jesse must come to terms with his past in order to forge some kind of future.

With El Camino, Vince Gilligan knows what he's doing, and it doesn't take him long to shift everything into higher gears. This is Gilligan operating near the peak of his calibre, and he takes time to fix one of the few crucial things of the show that he didn't get quite right the first time. He reinforces the main theme of Breaking Bad: that none of us know what we are capable of until we are pushed to the limits and our own survival is on the line.

Visceral, ruminative, and totally worth your time, particularly if you are lucky enough to see it on the big screen, El Camino is currently playing at the Chase Park Plaza in St. Louis as well as on Netflix.

 

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.