Comics Feed

Roundtable: Joker is no laughing matter

This weekend, the CultureGeek Roundtable pinned on the squirting flowers and went to see Joker, starring Joaquin Phoenix and directed by Todd Phillips. Here's what our panel had to say.


Rahul Menon

When you hand him the Oscar, can you introduce him as Joker?

Joker is what you get when you have a mediocre, overbearing director standing on the shoulders of one of the greatest actors of our time.

I've heard the audience and few critics say that this movie does a bad job of making us sympathize with the devil, and I have to completely disagree with them, because I feel this is more of a piece that's showing us how or why that devil came to be.

The portrayal of violence has been a controversial topic of discussion, for months now, even before the movie released! My two cents? It doesn't have as much as violence as John Wick or Anna or Ready or Not or Liam Neeson's Cold Pursuit.

The film is a psychologically rich portrait of a mentally ill loner that just happens to take place in a world that will one day yield a cowl-wearing billionaire vigilante. It lays out this life in decline and dares us to watch how it turns out. It works much better as a singular character study than as a broader sociopolitical drama. And regardless of where you will personally sit in reaction to its material, the fact it's inspiring conversation is an achievement in itself, and is nothing less than admirable in my opinion. I feel that the less you think about Joker as a comic book movie, the more you'll like it. I would always prefer movies that make you want to have discussions over the disposable ones that come out every other month.

The movie definitely is a calculated risk on WB's part, and I really hope it works for them, as that would open doors for more R-rated "superhero" films from the studio. It would make them stand out from all the Marvel films, which will (hopefully) hit saturation soon, now that the grimace has turned into ashes. I imagine how the movie would've played out if there wasn't a commercial imposition that the main character has to become the Joker at the end, or may be. WB could've gone the M. Night Shyamalan Split route and kept the entire Joker thing under wraps, calling the movie Arthur or something.

If only Todd Phillips' movie had the depth or clarity of vision to match up to its star's performance. But even with all its negatives, Joker stands out as a formidable and twisted film, both primarily because of Joaquin Phoenix. He isn't so much an actor as a moral contortionist in this origin story that features too many overt nods to the Scorsese movies from the 70's and 80's. Phoenix has plumbed depths so deep and given us such a complex, brutal and physically transformative performance that it would be no surprise to see him take home a statuette or two come award season. Heath Ledger definitely would have been proud, if he was able to witness this.

And with that, we have the clown who fights Batman as the most coveted role in Hollywood.


Jim D. Gillentine

In the latest movie from Warner Brothers under the DC banner, director Todd Phillips tries to show one of the possible ways that a man might snap and become a villain.

In Joker we are introduced to Arthur Fleck, a party clown living with mental illness and a condition of uncontrollable laughter when he is stressed. He tries to care for his mother, hold down his job, and stay balanced in a city that is suffering from crime, corruption, and a nasty garbage workers strike. As one bad thing after another happens to him, he begins to slip into madness, and we see the results of his fall.

Is Arthur Fleck a victim of his environment? Is he a madman that should be feared and we hope gets killed in some way? I really don’t know, to be honest. The movie has shown me one thing: Joaquin Phoenix’s performance is powerful, frightening, and one of the best if not the best performances this year. He at least deserves to get an Oscar nomination, if not win the bloody thing.

This movie isn’t your usual comic book movie. There are no crazy CGI special effects, no super powers, nothing magical. Just a gritty, dirty city and one man’s journey to become a villain. There are a couple of Batman Easter eggs here and there if you look for them, but this isn’t Batman’s story. This is Arthur's story, so don’t expect to see a superhero to show up to save the day.


Elizabeth Donald

If you removed the word Joker from this movie, and renamed the Waynes as the Jones family, this movie would probably be shed of many of the complaints about it. But it is not a movie that should be ignored.

It's not a superhero movie, nor the kind of film that one usually associates with comic books. That's partly because most people think of comic books as inherently fantasy, magic skills and funky devices and spandex costumes with awesome back spin kicks and flying - even from fans. That, of course, is only one level of comics, a medium that has illuminated depths and darkness far beyond the grittiest crime drama. I said when The Dark Knight premiered that if it were not a Batman movie and was billed as a mob drama, it would have taken home best picture. I had that same sense watching Joker, that this movie could have been billed as any crime drama outside of Gotham City, and it would be viewed very differently.

Joker is not best picture. It has many flaws, pacing among the worst of them - for a good portion of the film, I found myself hoping it would hurry up and get to the point. It has created an indescribably vicious urban hell that is basically the worst nightmare of the early 1980s brought to celluloid. As we walk the streets of Gotham with Arthur Fleck, we are uncomfortable watching the awful things that happen to him, because we know there can't be a happy ending for the bad guy - and he's the bad guy, right? 

We should be uncomfortable. Joker is the most political movie I have seen in years, a movie centered not on spandex and fisticuffs, but on a deeply divided, inequitable society. The things happening to Arthur are the same things that happen in our actual society, on the abuse of the different, the harshness of the streets, the selfishness of many humans, the cruelty of those in power. It is disheartening to watch, because we know these problems and that they have no easy solutions. 

But what exactly is the politic of Joker? From one perspective, one could view it as a mockery of the resistance movement, that the poor and angry 99 percent are sheep being manipulated by a madman into violence over nothing. "Those who oppose this unjust establishment aren't given a specific ideology, just explosively violent rage," writes Matthew Rozsa of Salon. "It offers no solutions beyond 'burn it all down.'"

From another perspective, it could be viewed as a warning to the 1 percent: the consolidation of power and money among the very few is enraging those who fight and die in the streets, and there will come a boiling point. Thomas Wayne is the walking personification of privilege here, spouting nonsense about how wealth just means you worked harder than the rabble, and speaks of the protests against him with such disgust and dismissiveness that in another decade, I would wonder how he could strive to be elected to anything. There is a sense that the wealthy of Gotham City live in a carefully protected bubble, and Arthur pierces that bubble in the most violent way possible. 

Rozsa hit on another of the major concerns: that Joker could be seen as a dangerous manifesto that could compel those who struggle with violent tendencies to commit acts of violence. And I must admit, it struck my mind that as much as Joker was uncomfortably real and awful to me, to someone of a similar mindset as Arthur, it could be quite the inspiration. 

Is it responsible to create works of art that feed the darkest of impulses? Conversely, is it responsible to whitewash such art to the point where we can simply pretend worlds like Arthur's do not exist? These are questions for far wiser minds than mine. 

One of the major concerns many fans had going into this film was that the Joker has always been an enigma. Any attempt to codify an origin story for the Joker is met with disdain and/or backpedaled quickly out of existence. The Heath Ledger variation played on that very mystery, with Ledger's Joker giving a different tale to everyone he meets about the source of his scars.

Fortunately, this was one area that I felt Joker handled well. There are multiple possible backgrounds for Arthur, and we are never sure which is the real one. It makes a mastery of the unreliable narrator structure, with repeated instances where we are unsure if the events unfolding are real, or merely Arthur's imagination. Even the ending puts the film itself in an entirely new perspective and leads us to question everything we've seen. For some audiences, this will be enormously frustrating; for others, it makes the film complete. Therefore it's difficult to know whether to recommend this movie, as it will definitely be one of those "love it or hate it" films. 

One thing no one can dispute: Joaquin Phoenix has turned in a career-level performance. His physical contortions are matched and surpassed only by the emotional gamut he runs as this deeply damaged human attempting, in his words, to find joy. Phoenix is acclaimed for his method acting, and one can only imagine the depths to which he had to reach to find this particular character. Joker is more of a character study than a story, with the wider background of the crime-ridden, disastrous dumpster fire that is Gotham City as mere background to illuminating Arthur. 

Is the Joker a born psychopath who found his way to becoming the Clown Prince of Crime, or is he a troubled, damaged man pushed into horrible acts by the torment of the city? Joker has no answers for us, not even in the form of a bat. 


Roundtable: Spider-man: Far From Home

It's the 23rd movie in the Marvel Saga (though that's only if you don't go back to Howard the Duck, and what monster would do that?). It made $185 million in its loooooooong launch weekend, instantly vaulting to No. 5 on this year's box office and... No. 163 in all-time worldwide box office. Or something. 

But was it good? The CultureGeeks are here to help you out! At least those that saw the movie opening weekend. (It's not like we have lives.)

Note: This review has spoilers for Avengers: Endgame! If you are among the 0.00005 percent of the moviegoing population that hasn't seen it yet.... what in the name of Thanos are you waiting for? It's out on Blu-ray in a month!


David Tyler

Spider-Man: Far From Home is an entry unlike any other in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  Since early in what Marvel calls Phase 1 we have had movies that, while servicing the heroes they they are ostensibly about, have also had the task of increasing the MCU's interconnection and moving the overarching story (i.e. Thanos and the Infinity Stones) forward. 

Far From Home, however, has a different assignment: mop-up duty.  You may be forgiven for thinking a movie named Endgame would be the last entry in the Phase 3 story arc, but officially it is Far From Home that wraps up the current MCU storyline. 

Spider-Man, for all his cultural relevance and comic history, is ultimately low-stakes amid the cosmic gravitas of MCU entries Spider-mansuch as Captain Marvel, Thor, or Guardians of the Galaxy.  This low-wattage power level makes Spidey the perfect vehicle for exploring the aftermath of Thanos's snap, or the "Blip" as the people of Earth have apparently begun calling the five-year disappearance of half the world's population. 

As we follow Peter Parker and friends (nearly all of which were conveniently "blipped" away and brought back) through their European science trip we get to see the evidence of Endgame's consequences, from broken-down neighborhoods to the near-universal mourning of Tony Stark.  It is Peter's relationship with Stark, and trying to live up to Stark's legacy, which drives the plot of Far From Home, and also gives it emotional heft.

Of course, this is an MCU movie, so the usual action set pieces abound, all of which are just as amazing as we have come to expect from Marvel.  The cast does their usual outstanding job. Tom Holland continues to be the best Spider-man shown on screen, Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury is always enjoyable, the rest of the kids on Peter's trip are all interesting, and so on. 

Jake Gyllenhaal is a welcome addition as new hero(?) Mysterio, but the clear MVP of Far From Home is Zendaya as MJ, Peter's erstwile love interest and sarcastic ninja. Zendaya is absolutely magnetic on screen and steals every scene she is in. Honestly, there are times when when Far From Home feels like a MJ movie, and everyone else should just be happy to be along for the ride.

So, is Spider-Man: Far From Home the best Marvel movie yet?  No, that is still far and away Captain America: The Winter Soldier. You can easily make the case, however, that it is the best Spider-Man movie ever, which is no small praise.  Moving forward, the MCU will undoubtedly find stories that are galaxy-spanning in scope, but for now, Spider-Man: Far From Home stands as a fitting, Earthbound coda to the story we have all been following for the past decade.


Jason Tippitt

At last, I managed to see a Marvel movie unspoiled. Spider-Man: Far From Home kinda spoils the audience, though, in a different way: the “spoiling the grandchildren” sense of the verb because after Captain Marvel and Endgame, Marvel could have coasted to the end of Phase III. Instead, we get this delightful European pastry of a movie.

Tom Holland and Zendaya light up the screen any time they’re together, the first cinematic Spider-pairing to really make me think “iconic screen duo.” I kinda want to see them age into doing Thin Man movies together, or playing Rob and Laura Petrie, with other stops on the way to doing On Golden Pond together a few decades after I’m gone. The various layers of this movie’s plot are full of humor and heart, from best friend Ned’s work to preserve Peter’s secret identity to the teen romances on the class trip to Europe, from Aunt May and Happy Hogan’s charity work together to the new odd couple pairing of Peter Parker and Nicholas J. Fury.

The movie’s heavy topic of legacy in the wake of Iron Man’s death in Endgame is a factor the trailers may have overemphasized. The complex special effects magic in some of the second-half fight scenes were too good — stunning, fast-paced, of “this is how it looked in my mind when I read the comics but I just didn’t know that” quality — to put in the trailers and I’m glad The Powers That Be at Sony kept them close to their vest.

The tag scenes at the end of the movie don’t just open windows to new possibilities — they knock down the entire wall between us and them. Marvel’s keeping very quiet about whether there’s even a Phase 4 as such developing, and anything could happen. “Anything can happen” is a feeling I used to have when reading comic books. But the same people kept dying and coming back, turning evil and then reforming or vice versa, and the four-colored pages lost some charm. How odd that the corporate world of film — forced to contend with actors and actresses who age and start wanting to do other things — would be the place where I’d rediscover that thrill as this franchise starts doing unexpected things because it’s way too soon to think about recasting any roles that have been vacated.

The streak won’t last forever. They never do. But the Marvel Cinematic Universe is still an exciting place to be, and Spider-Man and company make it seem like a lot of fun when you’re not blinking out of existence for years at a time.

P.S. Peter’s classmate Betty (Angourie Rice) should do amateur video news recaps for every Marvel movie from now on.


Jim Gillentine

Spider-Man, Spider-Man, does whatever a spider can!

How does Marvel Studios follow up Avengers: Endgame? One of best, if not the best comic-book movies in the MCU? They follow it up with the fun and witty Spider-Man: Far From Home, which has some very big shoes to fill after Endgame.

Far From Home picks up not long after the ending of Endgame, and centers around Peter Parker trying to deal with the fact that his hero Tony Stark is dead. Peter feels that it’s his job to somehow become the next Ironman. Meanwhile, he is trying to have fun on a European trip with his classmates and leave the hero stuff behind in New York. But Nick Fury and the strange new hero in town called Mysterio are determined to get him to help them stop a new threat.

As my wife is fond of saying, wackiness ensues.

As much as I enjoyed Endgame, I have to say that I really had a lot more fun watching Far From Home. I guess because Far From Home is a fun, upbeat movie, whereas Endgame finished with a serious and incredibly sad but hopeful ending.

Tom Holland has done a wonderful job capturing the spirt of a young Peter Parker trying to fit in a larger world beyond being a friendly neighborhood Spider-Man and the burden it can place on someone so young. Zendaya is wonderful as MJ with her snark and comebacks. Jake Gyllenhaal is excellent as Mysterio, and you can tell he was enjoying the part.

But my favorite character is always Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau). Although he provides some of the best laughs in the film, he also has the best scene in the movie, as he and Peter Parker are talking about Tony Stark and Peter’s place in his legacy.

The effects of Infinity War and Endgame's snap are part of the story and it shows the impact it has had on the world, but I wish more time could have been given to that plot point.

My main gripe about the film is that there is a lot of footage in the trailers that did not make the movie. The scene with Iron-Spider fighting the crooks and joking with the cops isn’t there, nor the scenes of Peter getting his passport. I know this happens all the time, but when it looks like a cool scene, I look forward to seeing it in the film and it is a little bit of a letdown when it’s not there.

Still, go check out this movie, you won’t be disappointed and I’m sure you will have a fun time.


Elizabeth Donald

It's hardly an easy task to top the operatic tragedy that was Endgame, and fortunately Far From Home doesn't try. It's a lighthearted entry comparatively speaking, and frankly, we needed a little teen silliness to breathe after the relentless trauma of Endgame.

Far From Home gets a lot of things right. I'm not going to pretend to be anything like the comics aficionado that my fellow CultureGeeks are, so I'm not going to weigh in on the battle of the Spideys or whether Tom Holland is the best to capture both Peter Parker and Spider-man so far. I will agree with the insightful author Keith DeCandido in his take, in that the new Spidey movies capture teenagers as they really act, not as middle-aged screenwriters think they act. (What, you can't read the link? You should subscribe to Keith's Patreon and get his awesome reviews all the time!)

The kids are all right. How about the adults? Well... I have complaints. (Don't I always?) One of my major complaints is completely wiped out by the end credits scene. so stay to the end. What's that you say - you're well-trained by Marvel and you know to stay to the end? Apparently some people still haven't gotten the memo after more than 20 freaking movies, because I see them filing out of the theater and I just want to tackle them shouting, "Don't you know there's MORE?" But I'd like to be allowed to return to my cineplex, so I restrain myself with muttering.

Another of my complaints has been addressed by my fellow reviewers: At least two-thirds of the teaser isn't in the movie. That speaks of some serious re-editing, and while I don't care about watching Peter pack for his trip, I feel cheated by not seeing his battle with the bandits and joshing with the cops. And as for his interaction with Flash, let's just say that if the trailer is funnier than the actual moment, your movie might have issues.

SadpeterThose issues are few, however. It's fun, and loud, and there are action scenes and CGI wackiness and it's predictable as hell, but you knew that coming in. There's a good bit of angst over the passing of Tony Stark, though I agree with some of the complaints that Captain America was just as much of a major name as Iron Man. It makes little sense that Tony's being mourned worldwide, especially since he seems to have hung up the Iron suit for five years before dying, and no one is mourning Cap's apparent demise. (Apparently the others who bit the dust in Endgame were too lacking-her-own-bloody-movie to merit a billboard.)

But we need Peter to mourn, and Tony was his uncle. Oops! I mean, his mentor! See, Holland did a fantastic job playing Peter's grief in Endgame and he matches that performance here. But the writer in me believed that Peter's grief was exacerbated by the loss of Uncle Ben, which is pretty much the gold standard for Motivational Origin Trauma. I mean, Uncle Ben is lying there right next to Bruce Wayne's parents. Now, I've seen written just about everywhere that nobody wants origin stories anymore. So I will sit on my sad, lonely mountain rewatching my origin stories, because I love the different takes on the stories we know. 

So fine, we don't need to actually see Ben die a third (fourth? fifth?) time. But can we acknowledge he exists? Can someone - Aunt May, Peter, anybody - recognize that this is the third quasi-orphaning for Peter, after losing his birth parents and Uncle Ben and now Tony, so he's either going to have serious father figure issues... or desperately search for a replacement father to take their place? (Ahem. No spoilers.) All we got of Ben were his initials on a suitcase, and frankly, I didn't feel that was sufficient. I am, however, used to being alone on my mountain. 

In all, Far From Home was more entertaining than a boxful of puppies, nodded its head to the endless internet yammering over the real-life implications of the Snap ("blip"? really?) and reminded us that these movies are supposed to be fun. Oh, and that technology can do anything the plot wants it to do. 

Stay to the end, kids.


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

David Tyler is a lifelong aficionado of all things geeky, ranging from Star Trek to chess. He carries his Infinity Stones everywhere he goes. 

Jason Tippitt is a recovering seminarian and mostly recovered former journalist living a few miles beyond that place you stop to use the restroom off Interstate 40 between Nashville and Memphis.

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.

Endgame checkmate

I must sadly inform you that there is really no need for you to run back to the theater for your fifth viewing of Avengers: Endgame.

Look, I love the movie as much as any of you - more, maybe, despite the flaws about which I have argued endlessly on social media. I wrote a media analysis of Fat Thor for my media research class - yes, it was on topic - and ran an opposing view here on this very site. We've all wept for [Character] and [Character], blasted the Spoiler Elves, and saluted our Captain.

No one was under any illusion that the instant re-release of Endgame into theaters was anything but a quick cash grab running for the No. 1 spot. It's not like they were hiding it; the slate as top-grossing movie of all time is a prime marketing tool, even though it's virtually meaningless. I mean, Avatar has held that spot for many years despite being a rather ho-hum film (albeit very pretty). I maintained at the time that Avatar won the top spot because it was the first to require special 3-D glasses and you had to pay extra for them. Yes, kids, there was a time when a ticket was a ticket, and one price fits all.

It's held onto that spot as other records have been broken practically every year. Records break easily in box office because box office is always going up, and because Hollywood and movie theater chains know all sorts of tricks to squeeze more dollars out of our pockets in an era where just about everyone has the ability to watch these movies endlessly at home, so why put up with obnoxious teenagers giggling all the way through the latest Annabelle? 105869314-1556118903883avengers4

But when you adjust for ticket price inflationAvatar isn't even in the top ten. Neither is Endgame, clocking in at No. 17 and two spots behind Avatar. While the original Star Wars ran a good game, no one has yet unseated Scarlett O'Hara as Gone With the Wind still holds the No. 1 spot for biggest box office.

Meaningless or not, the re-release was clearly an attempt to make up the $45 million gap between Endgame and Avatar. As of today it's still $23 million short, and if today's nearly-empty theater is any indication, it will stay that way.

CultureGeek Jr. and I scouted out the re-release with "bonus features" for you, and unless you're just dying (heh) to see the movie again, you can wait for the DVD. As far as we can tell, there were no significant changes made to the movie itself - and we should know after our repeat viewings. (Some writers have said specific scenes were longer; we noticed nothing.)

There is a post-credits memorial to Stan Lee that may cause a sniffle if you still have any heartstrings left after the Endgame final battle. There is a cut scene with unfinished CGI, and not to put too fine a point on it, I can see why it was cut. It's pretty much pointless and adds nothing to emotional or character development, much less plot. This is even more frustrating when you realize that there are six deleted scenes to be included on the DVD, and this is all they gave us?

And there's an end-credits teaser for Spider-man: Far From Home. It's nice and all, but really, nothing we didn't already glean from the other trailers, and since the movie is out now, it hardly seems necessary. 

When this was announced, I thought they would wait on the re-release until a week or two after the Independence Day holiday to avoid competing with themselves: it doesn't really make sense to have Endgame and Spider-man fighting each other for box office. But it turns out it isn't much of a fight; at least in our theater, Endgame showings are mostly empty, and they're waiting in line at the IMAX for Spidey. Sony is expecting $125 million from the six-day holiday stretch for the webslinger, while the industry is expecting $175.

So if you really want to see Endgame again, feel free to shell it out and you'll see the extra footage. But if you've seen it enough by now, you can certainly wait for the DVD. If you're conserving your funds, save it for Spidey. Rumor says that it's... amazing.



SPOILER: One tiny bit of light from the deleted scene that we missed: according to the news, the firefighter in the Hulk's deleted scene is none other than Die Hard's Reginald VelJohnson. Which explains Scott Lang's random Die Hard line mid-movie.   

Guest Voices: In defense of Thor the Voluminous

(Hark! There be spoilers for Avengers: Endgame here.)

Outrage is the modern zeitgeist, so of course, people Had Opinions about Avengers: Endgame. Some feminists felt it was outrageous that the film had forced Brie Larson to play a sexualized version of Captain Marvel who wore — horrors — makeup. (Never mind that actress Brie Larson chose Carol Danvers’ look and we got a great “woman power” scene in the climactic battle.)

But I’ve also seen some ink spilled and some pixels lit up over the portrayal of Thor in the movie. After a first-act, post-Snap showdown with Thanos — in which Thor “aims for the neck” as he failed to do in Infinity War and cleaves the Mad Titan’s head from his shoulders — we flash forward five years and the world has changed.

Captain America’s leading a grief counseling group. Hawkeye — now dressed in the Ronin costume a couple of people have worn in the comics — is killing bad guys who didn’t get Snapped away. We don’t see Rocket making viral videos mocking people, but you just know he is. And Thor?

Well, Tony Stark calls him “Lebowski” at one point, and it’s a fitting comparison. Chris Hemsworth donned one of Hollywood’s infamous “fat suits” and put weights on his wrists and ankles to change his gait into that of an Asgardian with PTSD who buries his pain and guilt in alcohol and fighting with Fortnite trolls online. (If you think of Thor’s alien pals Korg and Miek as “Donny and Walter,” really we’re just a Kenny Rogers song and a White Russian away from a complete homage.)

And, oh, do people Have Opinions about that. “Fat-shaming” is the common refrain. Rocket says Thor looks like “melted ice cream,” and when Thor later asks “What do you think runs through my veins?” (the answer is supposed to be “lightning”), War Machine asks “Cheez Whiz?” Even Thor’s mother, Frigga (encountered in the “time heist” portion of the movie shortly before her death in the dismal Thor: The Dark World), tells him to “eat a salad” among her last words with him.

That’s it, really. There’s physical humor of him giving Rocket a hug, and our alien scrapper struggling to get away from the beer gut, and Thor and Hulk both have trouble turning around in the small Norwegian house Thor calls home in New Asgard.

Outrage! Except …

I was about 10 years old when I was first groped by a boy who took my daring to develop the medical condition gynecomastia (look it up) as a sign that I was girl-like and ripe for exploitation. Thor’s slight case of “man-boobs” and protruding belly reminded me of myself in my thinner days, but I wasn’t triggered by the sight — or the jokes — at all. Not in context.

The Avengers are, for one thing, old friends who have busted each other’s chops for years. Of the four weight-related remarks I heard in the movie, one was Iron Man calling Thor “Lebowski,” and as I’ve noted, they disheveled his hair and beard and dressed him in a bathrobe for much of the film. It was a whole persona being acknowledged, not a weight joke. Avengers-endgame-fat-thor-chris-hemsworth

A mother telling her child to eat more healthily? That’s not an insult. We might laugh, but it’s a gentle laugh — mothers are mothers, even on Asgard, even in emotionally fraught moments. (Without the words ever being said aloud, Rene Russo plays Frigga as a woman who realizes her son’s demeanor is that of an orphan, and his attempts to warn her — which she shuts down — send a clear message her death is at hand. Yet she worries about him.)

That leaves Rocket and War Machine’s food-related comments. Rocket is a member of the Guardians of the Galaxy, who embrace their lot as “a bunch of a-holes.” He snarks at everyone; but he also delivers the most powerful speech about shared loss to ever come from a CGI raccoon-like creature (even if everyone in Asgard seems to think he’s a rabbit).

And War Machine? James Rhodes is a military guy. The Air Force may rely more on brains than physical brawn, but there’s a military idealization of physical perfection to be considered here. (He’s also Tony Stark’s best friend, and how do you do that without knowing how to give as good as you get in the game of insults?)

But that military angle sticks out to me as important to consider. War Machine, Captain America, and Captain Marvel are all military veterans. The Black Widow and Hawkeye/Ronin are former SHIELD operatives — black ops of a sort — essentially special forces. Rocket Raccoon is a mercenary adventurer, and Nebula has been engineered to be a living weapon. Of the humanoids, they’re all what would often be called perfect physical specimens — in some cases, enhanced beyond that.

Iron Man and The Hulk stand apart as a billionaire playboy genius and a nuclear scientist, respectively. And the Hulk is actually quite gentle and caring for Thor, trying to pull him out of his funk the same way Thor helped him in Ragnarok.

Thor, as a Viking warrior, was like most of the rest for most of the time we’ve seen him on screen, chiseled. But now he’s on the road to turning into his fallen friend Volstagg the Voluminous, who died along with the other Warriors Three in Ragnarok. Volstagg’s appetites for food and battle were unmatched, and there were jokes about him that I don’t recall provoking so much outrage, but no one questioned his bravery. Volstagg was worthy.

And so is Thor. The enchanted hammer Mjolnir tells us so, coming to Thor’s hand just before he and Rocket leave the Asgard of the past to return to the present. And in the final battle, when we see Thor get a magical makeover that tames his hair and turns his pajamas to battle armor — but doesn’t do liposuction — we see he’s as fierce as ever. Thor’s worthy, as is Captain America, as Mjolnir drives home in the heat of battle.

So yes, there are jokes about Thor’s weight. And a more enlightened set of Avengers might have called Rhodey or Rocket on them, though the latter, at least, I fear is a lost cause.

But let’s not overlook how much progress this film series has made. From the first Avengers movie where The Black Widow was the only woman on the field in the Battle of New York (in a scene we see recreated here), now we have a legion of heroines who put a hurting on Thanos in the final act. A number of characters have disabilities or missing body parts: Winter Soldier, Nick Fury, possibly The Hulk now, War Machine, Nebula, and are we sure Drax isn’t brain damaged? He was in the comics.

As Miles Morales says in a Marvel movie from last year (Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse), Spider-Man can be anyone. Anyone can wear that mask. The Marvel Cinematic Universe isn’t quite saying that “anyone can be a superhero” — it helps to be military-trained, royalty, or a super-genius — but it is giving a signal that it’s not just the white guys in domino masks or strongman tights who started the whole craze in the late 1930s.

And Ant-Man, the Wasp, and now Thor show that heroes come in a variety of sizes. I hope Thor’s time with the Guardians doesn’t shrink him back to standard size too quickly.

Jason R. Tippitt is a recovering seminarian and mostly recovered journalist whose first Marvel Comics crush was actually NOT Kitty Pryde, but Spider-Man’s amazing friend Firestar.

Dark Phoenix rises, and it isn't so bad

I find myself utterly flummoxed by the enormous negative reaction and dismal critic rating for Dark Phoenix, which was not nearly as bad as its reviews.

First, I want to declare my least popular opinion: I really don't care what happened in the comics. Don't get me wrong - I love comics, I used to have a pull list of my own before they became ludicrously expensive, I've read the Dark Phoenix saga in the original Chris Claremont.

But in my not-so-humble opinion, a movie adaptation needs to be able to stand on its own in its new medium, and that means changes. Some of those changes are good - I mean, have you ever read the novels on which Sleeping With the Enemy or The Hunt For Red October were based? Sometimes they take the source material and run it through a Cuisinart, but as Stephen King himself has said, the book is right there on the shelf. They can't change a word. (And he would know, given what Hollywood has done to some of his work.)

The Dark Phoenix story is not just the issues collected in the trade. It is also 30-odd issues leading up to it, with multiple storylines threaded in and out. As such, it is tricky to encapsulate the story in a single movie, as those behind the annoying X-3: The Last Stand discovered. And as the creators of Dark Phonenix have now discovered.

Really: Could a single movie include Mastermind, and the Hellfire Club, and the Lady Grey backstory, and the D'bari AND The Shi'ar in space, plus the Skree and Krulls and don't forget Uatu the Watcher... More importantly, would we want them to do so? I mean, it took 22 movies to build up to Avengers: Endgame, and by the time we got rolling in Infinity War, you were either in or you were lost. 

Both X3 and Dark Phoenix had another problem: A key character is missing. In X3, James Marsden couldn't hang around to play Cyclops through the Phoenix saga because he had to run off and be the real hero of Superman Returns. (A similar issue distracted Bryan Singer, who left the franchise he launched in order to resurrect Superman.)

In Dark Phoenix, the X-Critters are attempting to complete their biggest saga without Wolverine, who was neatly dispatched in the darkly emotional (and a tad dreary) Logan last year. 20th Century Fox chose not to recast Wolverine, as they are handing the X-Baton off to Disney, and allowed the character to simply disappear from Dark Phoenix. Maybe that's because it would be somewhat creepy for 51-year-old Hugh Jackman to spend a movie longing after a 20-something Sophie Turner. That only flies in Hollywood.

There have been far too many moments in the X-Men series where men stand around debating what to do about a woman, usually Jean. This was nicely dispensed by having the leader of the D'bari take the form of a human woman, so that the ultimate battle is between Jean and Vuk (Jessica Chastain) instead of Xavier and Magneto and Wolverine and Cyclops and even Mastermind deciding what should be done with her. This is a nice twist, and allegedly made to distinguish it from Captain Marvel. It was instantly derided as "trying to join the current trend of powerful women," because after dozens and dozens of superhero stories starring and largely focused on men, three women-led films are just crazytalk.

Unfortunately, the D'bari are the weak point of the film. Chastain practically speaks in a monotone, perhaps to indicate she is an alien intelligence translated into English, but it's a poor acting choice because we fail to feel any sense of menace from her. When she speaks of rebuilding the D'bari empire on Earth, she might as well be ordering a pizza. And her minions are practically faceless, certainly with no personalities whatsoever. They're just a convenient foil for the X-Folk.


PhoenixAnother complaint: the movie spends a great deal of time blaming Xavier for placing barriers in Jean's mind, protecting her from the memory of causing her mother's death and her father's decision to surrender her to Xavier. This is a slight variation from both the comics and X3, in which Xavier placed the barriers to keep Dark Phoenix from taking over Jean's mind.

However, the movie goes to a ridiculous extent blaming Xavier for everything that happens, and it feels unsupported by the story. Xavier didn't create the power of the Phoenix or cause Jean to become Dark Phoenix. He did not call the D'bari to Earth or hinder anyone's ability to fight them. His decision to protect Jean from grief and trauma is ethically questionable, to be sure, but it is hardly responsible for all the mayhem that follows.

In addition, Mystique (an under-used Jennifer Lawrence with one blue foot out the door) spends a long speech haranguing Xavier for making the X-Men poster children for mutants. When James McAvoy snaps back that he prefers medals and speeches to being hunted to extinction, he's speaking for the rest of us, wondering where Mystique has been for the last few movies when they were an inch from being rounded up into concentration camps. Mutants holding the right to live as themselves in public has been her cause all along, and it rings false when they have achieved it and she complains about Xavier's methods.

The movie cannot make up its mind whether Xavier is right or wrong in his choices, making him well-intentioned and kind and not directly responsible for any of the badness... and yet forced to take full responsibility by everyone else, including himself. In the end, you find yourself blinking in disbelief and rooting for Xavier to slap someone silly and sentence them to go watch the last five movies again.


Extra credit should go to Sophie Turner, who studied mental illnesses in preparation for playing a Jean both drawn to and repelled by her new powers as Dark Phoenix; and to McAvoy and Michael Fassbender as Xavier and Magneto, reprising their roles one more time with nuanced and skillful performances (plus or minus the writing of their characters). No one thought anyone could take over the roles created so well by Sirs Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen, and these two have done a terrific job.

Nicholas Hoult does a capable job as Beast, emoting through untold layers of makeup and special effects, while Tye Sheridan and Alexandra Shipp are simply there as Cyclops and Storm, neither impressing nor failing as their characters. Evan Peters returns as Quicksilver, though criminally underused and muted from his terrific appearance in Days of Future Past. (Blink and you miss it: Chris Claremont is in the awards ceremony toward the beginning.) 

In the end, Dark Phoenix is not the best of the X-Men franchise and it doesn't really feel like the finale of the series, though it is unfair to compare it to Endgame even in that respect. But it is hardly the disaster that the critics and many fans have painted it. It makes more sense than Apocalypse and is far more entertaining than The Wolverine, but neither is it the delight of X-2 or Days of Future Past. Its dialogue was not nearly as clunky as X1 and the story was not so dreary as Logan. 

It is practically inevitable that the series (which was already quasi-rebooted with the First Class crew) will be rebooted again under the Disney umbrella. Swear all you want at the Mouse, but these days, just about everything they take over ends up vastly improved. I look forward to seeing what they will do with the X-Folk, with the minor regret that we may not see McAvoy and Fassbender at the chess board again. 


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

Guest Voices: Flarrow Finale

Legacy. Family of choice. Good intentions with bad results. Redemption. Sacrifice.

DC Comics’ interconnected shows on The CW took an interesting path in the 2018-19 season, with the four series (see also Legends of Tomorrow and Supergirl) seeming to pair up thematically in key ways this year.

The Flash and Arrow shared similar concerns with the big topics listed above.

 Both series introduced some new characters and some new settings: Green Arrow meets a hitherto unknown half-sister, Emiko Queen. Team Flash gets to know Nora Allen, Barry and Iris’ daughter from the future where The Flash disappeared in a capital-C Crisis.

But we also met new characters … and older versions of some familiar faces … as Arrow flashed forward to the post-Crisis era and we caught up with some (but not all) of our familiar band of crimefighters. And by digging into Nora’s past on The Flash, we see another stage in the life of Eobard Thawne, the Reverse-Flash.

Events in the present day would have their effects in the future, instilling every present-day decision with more weight as we saw the consequences down the line. Is the timeline malleable? Thawne certainly thinks so.

 The Flash welcomed guest stars Chris Klein, Sarah Carter, Kimberly Williams-Paisley, and Kyle Secor over the course of the season.

Arrow welcomed Colton Haynes back to the main cast as Roy Harper/Arsenal and also featured Kirk Acevedo as last-season’s main villain Ricardo Diaz, Michael Jai White as Ben Turner/Bronze Tiger, and Adrian Paul (TV’s Highlander) in a role I won’t disclose, with relative newcomers Katherine McNamara and Ben Lewis playing key roles in the future scenes.

Oh, and halfway through the season came the “Elseworlds” crossover, which also included an episode of Supergirl. (Legends of Tomorrow sat it out due to character congestion.) And in that crossover we met a mysterious figure called The Monitor … and we met the Barry Allen of Earth-90, a seasoned hero played by John Wesley Shipp (who’s previously played Barry’s dad and alternate universe Flash Jay Garrick in these series). Yes, the 1990 version of The Flash is now in these shows’ multiverse.

The Monitor has some dire predictions about the future. And the thread doesn’t just stop there. This fall’s five-series crossover (Flash, Arrow, Legends of Tomorrow, Supergirl, and the newly launched Batwoman) will be titled “Crisis on Infinite Earths,” the seasons’ finales all point to it in their own unique ways, there will likely be tears before it’s over, and the road started with this season for most of the shows.

Arrow season 7: 5/5 stars
The Flash season 5: 4/5 stars

Tomorrow: Legends of Tomorrow and Supergirl finales!


Jason Tippitt is a recovering seminarian and mostly recovered former journalist living a few miles beyond that place you stop to use the restroom off Interstate 40 between Nashville and Memphis. 

Guest Voices: The Love That Hears Its Name Whispered, With Laughter

(Note: As they sometimes say on NPR, the following is by no means explicit but does acknowledge the existence of sex.)

I had a great idea for this entry. I was going to talk about the way pop culture, from movies to TV shows to popular music to comic books and more, has a gender disparity in the way masturbation is portrayed depending on whether the person engaged in the act is male or female. It could be summed up in what the activity suggested about the person as a social animal: If the character is a female, this is an empowering act that shows “she doesn’t need a man” to have a satisfying sexual life, but if it the character is a male, the act is humiliating proof that he “can’t find a woman.”

(Apologies for the heteronormativity and gender binary-ness of it all.)

The thesis fits the pop culture I’m most familiar with. And therein lies the flaw at the heart of the experiment: a pitifully small sample size, even though some people think of me as a walking encyclopedia.

Thankfully, you and I have been rescued from a likely embarrassing outcome by someone else with the time and resources to actually do the research correctly: Australian academic Lauren Rosewarne’s Masturbation in Pop Culture: Screen, Society, Self (Lexington Books, 2014) is a soundly researched look at the phenomenon using more than 600 instances as its evidence base.

And now I will say a novel thing you never hear online: I was wrong.

To the extent that masturbation is talked about, it’s often in the sense of an “everyone does it, but we don’t talk about it” talk from parent to child. But the “caught in the act” scenario applies to men and women, the “sad and lonely and looking for release” depiction goes both ways, and there are even examples like Michael Winterbottom’s NC-17 indie film 9 Songs where not only is the character involved with someone, they might even be in the same bed.

Rosewarne’s book is a fascinating read, though it’s priced as a college textbook, so reader be rich (sic). So instead of going off on a bunch of anecdotes — which would not constitute data — I’ll instead leave you with one anecdote and a recommendation, not in that order.

* The Recommendation: Chynna Clugston-Flores’ indie comic Blue Monday (available in collected editions from Image Comics) is a must-read for anyone who likes post-punk and New Wave music, manga aesthetics, and the high school comedies of John Hughes and his imitators, or preferably all of the above. But John Hughes is now problematic, I know, so I’ll add that those problems are not on evidence here.

 Volume 4 of the series, Painted Moon, has a riotous sequence in which the core group of friends discovers that two of their own have never learned to manage their tensions, so to speak, and peer-pressure them into (separately) getting in touch with themselves. Queue up the Buzzcocks’ punk classic “Orgasm Addict” as hijinks ensue and Bleu, our aquamarine-tressed heroine, suddenly starts getting a lot of bathroom passes.

The whole series is a delight, but this installment of the series turned the “horny boy/shameful girl” stereotype on its ear to hilarious effect.

* The Anecdote: I don’t know why I didn’t know until … more recently than I care to admit … that Cyndi Lauper’s hit single “She Bop” was an empowering anthem about masturbation, but I’m absolutely positive that neither of the junior high teachers who used the song for a unit on verb conjugation knew anything about that, even though the song was one of the reasons records eventually got labeled. (Cyndi Lauper, Guns ’n Roses, Sam Kinison, 2 Live Crew, they were all alike, right?)

In the same way that Bleu Finnegan or Drew Braverman of TV’s “Parenthood” may have loved themselves a little too much and too often, that song was bored into my brain as we tortured the rhyme scheme with such verb tenses as “they shall have bopped.”

(The voice of Cyndi Lauper was also present for a more poignant and strange moment in my high school years when I was picked to play the color Green in a teacher inservice about a possibly pseudoscientific personality model called “True Colors.”

I love Cyndi Lauper now because I am not history’s greatest monster, and I hope she got some royalties for those bits of strangeness. But 30 years after its release, if I hear “She Bop” coming on the radio, I’m still changing the station.

Jason Tippitt is a recovering seminarian and mostly recovered former journalist living a few miles beyond that place you stop to use the restroom off Interstate 40 between Nashville and Memphis.

Captain Marvel Roundtable!

Elizabeth Donald, your friendly neighborhood CultureGeek

Look, I can't read everything. I'm sorry to say Captain Marvel as a character was pretty much unknown to me, except as one of those comic-book characters who had had multiple identities over the years - you know, like Batman, Robin/Nightwing/Whatever, Captain America, Spider-man, Green Lantern.... So I really wasn't sure why everyone was all crazy about Captain Marvel premiering as Carol Danvers except, y'know, she's a girl. Eeeek!

CaptainmarvelbrielarsonIf you're looking for a deconstruction of angry fanboy wails regarding the emasculation of the American hero, eh. Here we want to talk about the movie itself, apart from the extracurricular nonsense surrounding the "inevitable decline" of a franchise following a $455 million worldwide premiere weekend. Ahem. 

And I have to agree with Alicia Lutes of Variety who said Captain Marvel was... fine. It was enjoyable, far less eye-rolling than some of the MCU (Ragnarok, I'm lookin' at you) and a fun outing with introduction to a character I liked. It was not, however, the best superhero film ever or the best of the MCU, frankly. I had quibbles, but they're minor and spoilery, and I know that several of you have not seen it yet (including some of my guest reviewers, sadly...)

But it's okay. Because as Lutes pointed out, a female-led superhero movie should not have to be THE BEST EVER in order to take its place in the franchise. Bearing a strong resemblance to the real workplace, a woman-led film apparently must be four times as profitable and ten times as good as the lousiest male-led film in order to be considered "equal." So it needs to be okay that Captain Marvel is okay, and not put in a cage match with Wonder Woman* or the eternally pending Black Widow, because what's good for one is good for all. It was fun, never dragged, and I loved the "stand up" montage (you know what I mean, I'm dancing around the spoilers here) and final confrontation.

It was fun, and a worthy addition to the MCU. Should you see it? Absolutely, but it really wasn't a question, was it? By now you're either dialed in to the MCU series or not (and if not, here's your catchup list), and just like the comics' Crisis of Infinite Crossovers, you gotta see them all. Fortunately, Captain Marvel will be one of the more enjoyable chapters (Ragnarok, still lookin' at you). 

Now hear from some of our guest reviewers - at least, the ones who were there on opening weekend. Because of course we were.

* Seriously, can we not with the "Wonder Woman or Captain Marvel" crap? The answer is: both.


Jason R. Tippitt, comics aficionado

Captain Marvel works as both a celebration of ”girl power” and the human spirit. The movie fills in some gaps for longtime MCU viewers, offering new looks at Fury, Coulson, and some Kree baddies we've seen before.

Carol Danvers’ comic book origins saw her as a supporting character in another hero’s book: the male Kree warrior Mar-Vell, who had turned against his warlike race to protect the Earth. She was one of several superheroines to be born in a male hero’s shadow, along with Supergirl, Batgirl, and Batwoman at DC Comics, or She-Hulk, the Wasp, and (at least by name association) Spider-Woman at Marvel Comics.

But Carol did something none of those others did: She outlived the male hero who had preceded her and inspired her original identity of Ms. Marvel. He died in the 1982 graphics novel The Death of Captain Marvel. Carol Danvers drifted around for years under a few aliases, and a couple of other people took the name Captain Marvel before Carol finally got the title. (In the comics, she's an Air Force major and outranks Captain America).

Brie Larson and Samuel L. Jackson play off each other well. There was more of Annette Bening than I expected, and her few scenes cover a broad range. And Goose (played by four orange cats) steals every scene he's in, as cats do. Great fun with an on-point soundtrack of 90s hits, many by female artists. 


Jim Gillentine, author and self-professed geek

I’ve been a fan of comics since I was around 12 years old. That was the age I started collecting and reading the many different titles I loved. By the time I started reading them, Captain Marvel was long gone and Ms. Marvel had been turned into a normal person (and inactive) thanks to Rogue of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. I did read the storyline how Carol Danvers had become Binary, but other than that I had very little knowledge of her. 

Why does this matter? I went into this movie blind, with no notion of the character and no expectations. How was it for me? Pretty good!

Brie Larson as Carol Danvers gave a good performance as someone trying to find her way as a hero, a person, and a friend to those around her. Samuel Jackson as Nick Fury was his usual awesome self, but the real scene-stealer was Goose the cat. A funny addition to the movie and worth every time the little guy was on screen.

Nitpick: Sometimes the CGI was meh, but most of the time it was the high quality we expect from Marvel.

How well would I stack this movie with the other films? It is just as good as Ant-Man and Dr. Strange as far as origin movies go. For me it was fun, exciting, and a good addition to the MCU, and I look forward to seeing Captain Marvel in Avengers: Endgame. As for the controversy around this film? Not worth my time to address. Go see the movie and enjoy it if you want. 


Ian Smith, film student

This is Marvel Studios first female-led superhero picture, and I enjoyed it very much. For someone like me who hasn’t read the comics or knows very little about the character and story, it was different from any others I’ve seen.

The average paint-by-numbers superhero origin story shows a regular person gaining powers and trying to adapt and use them for good (Spider-man, Captain America, Doctor Strange). And the second paint-by-numbers origin story shows a superhero who already has powers and protects the humans on earth (Thor, Black Panther). 

Captain Marvel took these two basic plot lines and mixed them all into one. It started out like a Thor story, where the hero finds this planet with puny lifeforms and feels a need to protect them. But they made an excellent choice in making her story more Captain America than Thor.

Captain Marvel was extremely enjoyable, especially for someone like me who appreciates a message behind the story and the cinematography. If you’re someone who has been up to date on everything MCU and Avengers, then you’ll see Captain Marvel and see that she is a great addition to the roster that will help the Avengers defeat Thanos.

And you don’t HAVE to be a die-hard Marvel nerd to enjoy and understand this movie. There are quite a few scenes that call back to the Avengers movies, but those are not the backbone of the plot. Even if you haven’t seen every Marvel in the past decade, I still think you’ll quite enjoy it as well. It has a strong, empowering feminist message, a compelling story and a cast of good characters that you will grow to know and love.

As good as this movie is, it still had the power to hype up Avengers 4 to an even bigger level (obviously). It’s not like Marvel NEEDED another reason for fans to go see Avengers 4. But I think it’s going to be so satisfying watching both Captains, Steve Rogers and Carol Danvers, fighting side by side. Heroes EVERYBODY can look up to, no matter the gender.

I think this is good start to something they should’ve done long ago: Breaking barriers, proving that female superheroes are just as capable and engaging (and sometimes better than) the others. I agree that it should’ve been done this long ago, but I’m just glad we’re realizing it now... and inspiring the little ones as they watch Captain Marvel and Captain America fight side by side, as equals.


Linkspam grabs the Emmys and Comic-Con Trailers

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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


Trailer Park

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Coming This Weekend and Next

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

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

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

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

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



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

Linkspam wishes Captain America a happy birthday

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

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

Happy birthday, Captain.

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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


Trailer Park

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

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


Coming This Weekend  

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

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

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



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