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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: Long live the king(zilla)

It has been five years since Godzilla swam off at the end of the 2014 Godzilla, and now the king has returned to reclaim his throne.

Michael Dougherty, director for Godzilla: King of the Monsters, decided that for this sequel he would give the "G fans" what they said they all wished was in the first movie: More monster action and fan service galore.

The plot centers on the world trying to cope with the fact that monsters are real, and the best way to deal with it. Vera Farmiga plays Dr. Emma Russell, who feels that the Titans (monsters) can be lived with and studied. Her estranged husband, Mark Russell (Kyle Chandler), thinks they should be killed, after their son Andrew died in the 2014 battle between Godzilla and the MUTOs. Daughter Madison Russell (Millie Bobby Brown) is dragged into the middle, as eco-terrorist Alan Jonah (Charles Dance) enters the fray.

In all of this, Dr. Ishiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) is still trying to get the governments of the world to understand that Godzilla and the other Titans are all part of the natural order of the world and that coexistence should be a goal. But when the Titan King Ghidorah awakens, it causes a chain reaction of Titans awakening across the world that only Godzilla can stop.

If you know me and have listened to me speak on the sci-fi convention circuit on panels, you all know I am one of the biggest G Fans out there. My love of the Godzilla movies has led me to write papers for school on the significance of the films and the symbolism the movies have created throughout the years. Iguana

So what has Michael Dougherty brought to this new Godzilla film? Pure popcorn fun and so many call backs to the old films you will need to get the movie on Blu-ray to be able to find them all. Once the action gets going, it is non-stop, with kaiju sightings, battles, and people running in terror from the monsters.

And man, what monsters! Along with Godzilla, there are three other monsters from the Toho movies: Mothra, Rodan and King Ghidorah are all beautifully crafted into CGI monsters of power. The battles between the monsters are fierce and just as destructive as they should be when monsters the size of skyscrapers are fighting. It was one of the most fun times I have had at the movies in a long time, seeing so many of my childhood favorites on the big screen again.

One of the most impressive things in the movie is the soundtrack. Legendary Pictures was able to acquire the rights to use the original music from the Toho movies. Hearing the classic music of the Godzilla and Mothra themes made it so magical. I was grinning ear to ear, listening to Mothra’s music as she came out of her cocoon.

It isn't perfect. Emma's storyline gets a little silly, and the eco-terrorist's motives are left to the oversimplified and overused points of "We are killing the planet and need to be destroyed." Millie Bobby Brown isn’t given a lot to do in the film, but what she is given she does a fine job of it. Some of the jokes in the film are forced and can be plain dumb. But luckily, Bradley Whitford’s Dr. Stanton is given all of the best jokes, and he does them well.

Spoiler Warning!

The Mothra Twins do make an appearance... but the way it is done is cool, with no singing.

The only Toho monsters in the movie are the Big one else shows up from the Toho roster of monsters, which is a little of a letdown, but hopefully if they make more movies, others can be adapted for the Monsterverse. Rodan and Mothra’s screen time is very limited which made me wish we could have seen more of them. But, for when we do see them it is wonderful. Although his only appearance is in video footage and a wall painting, Kong is mentioned several times. This makes sense, as the battle to end all battles comes next year with Godzilla vs. Kong pitting the King of Skull Island against the King of the Monsters.

End spoilers

How did they handle my hero Godzilla? Wonderful! He was the unstoppable force of nature that we all grew up watching and cheering for. When he gets smacked around in the fights you can’t help to cheer for him to get up. His facial expressions are done to perfection and I found myself cheering and jumping for joy at the end of the movie. I will always have a soft spot in my heart for the big G, and it made me so happy to see him doing what he does best: Wrecking stuff and proving that he is the king.

If you are not a fan of the Godzilla genre, can you enjoy this movie? Well, if you like a good action flick and don’t mind rooting for a giant lizard and moth, you should be good to go. This isn’t Shakespeare, folks.

All in all, I loved this movie. I plan to go see it a few times to catch whatever I might have missed in the Easter Egg department and to see my hero stomping around. In other words...

Long live the King!


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

Summer Movie Round-up!

Summer is usually when the movies get big and dumb, and we all flock to them anyway. Is it that we have no taste in the summer, or we’re craving air conditioning and overpriced popcorn? Or maybe it’s that we tend to have more spare time and fewer commitments. At any rate, summer means movies, and usually not the art-house flicks.

I don’t pretend to watch every movie - I leave that to my guest columnist Rahul Menon, who literally does watch every. single. movie. But here’s a quick rundown of the movies coming up this summer, and what we expect from them.


Already Out

No, we didn’t bother reviewing Endgame, because a) just about every one of you saw it anyway, and b) every blog in the universe had a review. What could we add to the conversation? We were all too busy standing in line to see it again.

Also out: Aladdin, which has middling reviews but I hear that Jasmine finally gets her own bloody song, and it’s about time. Also Pokemon Detective Pikachu, which you could not pay me to see, and Brightburn, which is Evil Superman as the Bad Seed.

And there’s Booksmart, which is confounding me. I was actively angry at the trailers, which appeared to depict two young women who are supersmart but of course completely socially inept, because everyone knows “book smart” is antithetical to having a social life or understanding the basics of human interaction, with an (un)healthy dose of fat-shaming as the plus-size friend is the loud, obnoxious and clueless one. However. Several people I know and trust have seen it and say it isn’t that at all, and it’s actually a terrific movie. I’m not sure I’m convinced enough to head to the theater, but I might give it a chance on Netflix. Have you seen it? What do you think?


May 31

Godzilla: King of the Monsters. If you follow us on any social medium, you know that guest columnist Jim D. Gillentine is the biggest Godzilla nerd in the Western hemisphere. Probably you could have figured that from the 19 Godzilla-themed posts on his Facebook in the last 24 hours. (I am not exaggerating, I counted.) So look for a Godzilla review next week, as we watch the Big Iguana go to town on a collection of traditional kaiju from … you know, I will let Gillentine handle that.

Rocketman. Early buzz is much more positive for this biopic of Elton John than a similar-themed Bohemian Rhapsody a few months ago.

Ma. Horror flick starring Octavia Spencer as … a psychopath knocking off the usual nubile, drunken teenagers? Offbeat casting and Spencer is an Oscar winner, which is about the only thing that would interest me in what looks like a paint-by-numbers thriller.


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• Comic book nerds unite, because the long-running X-Men saga is taking a second try at Dark Phoenix. They certainly couldn’t do a worse job than the first attempt, despite the very
best efforts of the Phase One crew, and Sophie Turner has impressed me in the trailers at least.

• Also releasing: Late Night, in which Emma Thompson is a talk-show diva and Mindy Kaling is her unexpected muse; and The Secret Life of Pets 2, about which the less said is better. Also also: a Ron Howard documentary about Pavarotti is of great interest to me and probably will play absolutely nowhere near me.


June 14

• Tessa Thompson and Chris Hemsworth escape the Marvel Universe to take on the awesome suits of Men in Black: International, co-starring Emma Thompson (again!) as the new Zed.

• Also releasing: a new Shaft movie with Samuel L. Jackson, a zombie flick titled The Dead Don’t Die and a whole lot of little drama films you’ve never heard of.


June 21

• CultureGeek Junior (a.k.a. Ian Smith) is approaching Toy Story 4 with a now-familiar mixture of dread and excitement. For his generation (end-millennial), Toy Story is the language of childhood, and the third film closed on a perfect note. Do we want to reopen the toybox? Can they really pull it off a fourth time without screwing it up? Look for his assessment in late June.

• Also releasing: a reboot of Child’s Play, which seemed like the world’s worst idea until I heard that Chucky’s voice is Mark Hamill. Now I’m paying attention. Also a documentary on Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am. See above note about Pavarotti.


June 28

It's a catchup week, with a weird Danny Boyle flick about a world where the Beatles never happened titled Yesterdayand the next installment in the Conjuring series with Annabelle Comes Home. I have very complicated feelings about the Conjuring movies, which I may detail in another column someday. There's also a scattering of dramas and documentaries, as is usually the case in a catchup week before...


July 5

The Fourth of July is another tentpole week in a summer full of tentpoles, but this year they’re going light on us: only one mega-film releasing. Spider-man: Far From Home returns us to the MCU in the aftermath of Endgame, and hopefully will answer some of our lingering questions.

  • What happened to all the families with a five-year gap in ages now that they were un-snapped?
  • Why is Peter’s best friend (and apparently all his other friends) still in high school? Were they all snapped?
  • Who's running the country when the snapped politicians and leaders got un-snapped? Runoff election time!
  • What happened to all those people who were on planes or undergoing surgery?
  • Was the rat really Loki?
  • Why didn’t anyone pick up the trash for the five years of the Snap?

(Okay, that last one is probably only bothering me.)

There’s also a couple of thrillers coming out - Midsommar, Cold Blood Legacy - but no one cares.


July 12

It’s a catchup week, as we see a bunch of non-tentpoles crowded into a week without a superhero. We have two thrillers: Crawl, about a woman fighting alligators during a hurricane (okay); and 21 Bridges with Black Panther’s Chadwick Boseman as a disgraced New York detective fighting bad guys by shutting down New York’s bridges and tunnels. Already the premise raises red flags for me, but I’d happily watch Boseman read the phone book, so….

Also releasing: Karen Gillan and Dave Bautista in a ride-sharing “comedy” titled Stuber (no) and The Farewell, a “comedy” about a grandmother who is dying and being lied to by her whole family. I must be missing something there.


July 19

500Disney’s at it again, with the “live action” Lion King remake. Okay, we know it’s not actually live action but just a totally different kind of animation because hey, real animals on the veldt don’t sing and dance. Shut up.

It’s Chiwetel Ejiofor, Donald Glover, Beyonce and Alfre Woodard on the voices, with James Earl Jones returning as Mufasa because there is no other God before him. Also, John Oliver as Zazu is my pick for casting choice of the year.

Literally nothing else is going up against this. Oh, except a documentary about David Crosby.


July 26

• Quentin Tarantino can’t leave Leonardo DiCaprio alone, as he’s put him with Brad Pitt for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. One is a fading actor, the other is a stunt double, and Al Pacino, Kurt Russell, Christopher Walken and Margot Robbie show up as well. Supposedly it’s Tarantino’s “love letter to L.A.” I generally can’t stand Tarantino (yeah yeah I know) but it’s vaguely interesting from the trailer.


Aug. 2

• It doesn’t matter how many times the Fast and Furious people make me watch the same. bloody. trailer. I have no interest in Hobbs and Shaw, but perhaps I would feel differently if I had seen any of the prior F&F films. What do you think?

Also releasing: Dora and the Lost City of Gold, updating Dora the Explorer to teen years and hopefully giving young girls a new heroine.


Aug. 9

It’s another dumping ground, with horror flick Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, dramas The Kitchen and Brian Banks, and Kenneth Branaugh directs Artemis Fowl from the Irish fantasy YA book series.


Aug. 16

We close out the summer with Angry Birds Movie 2 and 47 Meters Down: Uncaged, proving that no movie can be so bad or flop so badly that someone won’t greenlight a sequel. Also crime drama The Informer, comedy music pic Blinded by the Light re: Springsteen, and I kid you not, Playmobil: The Movie, with... Daniel Radcliffe? I cannot make this up.

That’s the run-down. So what are you looking forward to seeing? What would you like to see CultureGeek and the Guest Voices review? Happy summer!

It's a Disney Day

With the final Endgame trailer, the long-awaited announcement of the Disney+ launch and the hotly-debated Star Wars IX trailer, it's pretty much a Disney Friday. 

Yell all you want about the Mouse, the fact is that they're making entertainment that the vast majority of the U.S. (and much of the rest of the world) desperately wants to watch.

Disney's stock jumped up 11.5 percent in one day after the announcement of the programming lineup and price of Disney+, the long-awaited streaming service that will shift all of the Marvel movies, traditional Disney animation, the 500+-film movie library, the Disney Channel backlog (Mouse help us), the ever-widening Star Wars universe, the Pixar films and National Geographic for $6.99 a month or just under $70 a year.

Am I the only one who didn't know NatGeo was under the Mouse now? Look, I can't know everything. Grad school. Yeah, that's my excuse and I'm keeping it. Meanwhile, Disney owns all or part of Hulu and ESPN, so be looking for a possible bundle deal if those are important to you. 

Variety's got the full list, so check it out here. They really didn't need to indicate that Disney's upcoming movies would be on it - seriously, duh - but the Loki series, the live-action Star Wars series, WandaVision, Rogue Trip, and some of the other original offerings look interesting. Disney is investing $1 billion in this thing - that's like one whole Marvel movie! - and since this is pretty much the way entertainment is going, pay attention, folks.

Netflix dropped 4.5 percent, but I'm not worried. They're still the streaming 800-pound gorilla, and the day of the announcement was going to smack them regardless. Still, bad timing to announce they're raising their prices AGAIN on the same week. AT&T, YouTube TV and Sling have all increased prices - guys, remember we have actual choices now. This is not cable, where we were all trapped by whatever the hell they wanted to charge us and we had to take everything (plus or minus premium) or nothing. 

It's not like it was really a question - my family is so Disney that our subscription was inevitable. But the fact that it's so frigging affordable makes it a definite yes for us. 

Then there's the Endgame trailer.


Frankly, I liked the second one better; it gave more of a sense of history and of the prior 22 movies or so coming to this moment as well as Black Widow being badass and Tony (almost) being human. But really, honestly: they made sure to include Captain Marvel smiling! 

No, I don't have my tickets yet, because I don't have $15,000. (Seriously, people, it's going to be on for a while. You'll catch it.) I appear to be the only one....

Fine, let's talk Star Wars. No, I'm not going to analyze every frame of the thing and speculate about whether the title means Rey is actually the daughter of Mara Jade (give it up, guys) or whose voice is laughing at the end and I'm just gonna say HELLO LANDO and hand over my money, okay? 

I'll be unhappy if they retcon some of the startling, groundbreaking changes made in the series by Last Jedi - no, Rey doesn't need to be descended from anyone special in order to be awesome. And "No one is ever gone" is kind of the whole point of nine movies (plus other schtuff) about The Force, right? 

And the less said about the incel assholes the better. A woman's holding the lightsaber now, get the hell over it. 


In the meantime, Hamill's gonna be himself. And may the Force be with him.


Guest Voices: Shazam!

Today's guest voice is author and comics nerd Jim D. Gillentine. He says the Magic Word.


I lucked into an early screening of the new DC movie, Shazam! and I have to say...  it is one of the best comic book movies I have ever seen. We're going to avoid spoilers, because that's the rules of this site and because I truly believe that you need to go see this film yourself to fully enjoy it.

The best thing by far in this film is the acting of Zachary Levi as the main character. He is able to portray the wonder, starry-eyed excitement a 14-year old boy would have to become a superhero with the power of the Greek gods at his disposal. Asher Angel, the actor that plays Billy Batson, does a really fine job playing the child counterpart to Shazam and you find yourself really wanting to give the poor guy a hug during the sadder moments of the movie.

But the best acting goes to Jack Dylan Grazer as Freddy Freemen, Billy Batson’s foster brother. The scenes between Levi and Grazer are pure comedic gold! I was laughing so much at the interactions between the two of them. They by far had the best scenes in the movie and are worth the ticket price alone.

But what is a superhero movie without a good villain? No worries there, as Mark Strong as Doctor Sivana does an excellent job giving us a villain we love to hate and yet, still feel a little sympathy for, because of how much his childhood influenced his path in life. Everyone else in the movie put a great effort in playing their characters and I tip my hat to director David Sandberg to be able to bring out the best from the cast.

The only real gripe I have for this movie is that I have to wait to go see it again in two weeks. If you want a fun, enjoyable time at the movies with your family then go see Shazam! I think you will be very pleased with what it has to offer.


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

Guest Voices: Us

Today's Guest Voice is Rahul Menon, filmmaker and grad student. Rahul sees every movie. EVERY movie. 


I think this would be the apt time to coin a new genre just for Jordan Peele: ‘Socio-Horror.' Us is a blast of ideas that’s been smartly packaged and sneaked into a movie theatre as a horror movie, with just enough absurdity to spark conversation.

Us-movie-poster-384x600The #Oscar win for Best Original Writing for Get Out hasn’t gone to Peele’s head. He’s still the same old writer, director, actor and creator: he loves absurd dark humor, he's a horror nerd, and someone who likes to make socially provocative projects.

I can’t talk about Us without talking about Lupita Nyong’o’s sublime performance, Mike Gioulakis’ chilling cinematography and Michael Abels’ haunting score. Lupita Nyong’o is so brilliant in this movie that I’m quite confident that she’ll be overlooked by the Academy, just like Toni Collette in last year’s Heredity. Her performance is essential to the psychological impact of the film, and she succeeds in a big way.

The creative cinematographic choices by Mike Gioulakis are key in illuminating some of the film’s core themes. It crafts a striking and memorable imagery, and enhances the overall chilling experience of the movie. The first time you watch it, enjoy the visuals and the absurdity of the whole thing, the second time you go for it, enjoy the deeper meanings of those visuals, which may lay out different interpretations for different people.

To think that this is Michael Abels’ second time scoring for a movie is just unbelievable! The score lives, breathes, and dances to every beat of the story, along with the characters. You will be spooked by the score, and you will feel like dancing to it, at the same time.

For those of you who have seen and loved Get Out, you know you are in store for lots of allegory and symbolism, satire, social commentary and metaphors. This movie showcases Peele’s ability to build tension and release it in a satisfying way, both with humor and horror, and at times it will remind you of his old comedy sketches from Key and Peele. You will have a lot of questions once the movie gets over; you will definitely want to have a conversation and a discussion with someone, which in itself  is a big win for this movie. 

Get Out was thematically better, much tighter and concise in its story. But Us is definitely a better horror film, using all the tropes to its advantage, and is easily some of the finest visual storytelling that you are likely to see in 2019. This is like a wild horror fever dream, and pretty much every component has to be viewed with the perspective of a social issue.

But the most important thing is that Jordan Peele is just beginning his film career as the new Master of Horror. Regardless of any plot issues the movie has, the guy is a master film maker.

As for Jordan, please keep making horror, please keep making us shudder, the genre loves you. I can see why you were chosen to revive The Twilight Zone.

So do I pay for the next Jordan Peele movie right now, or how does this work? 

"When you point one finger, there are three fingers pointing back to you."


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. Facebook, Instagram, IMDB.

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.


Guest Voices/MovieGeek: Alita: Battle Angel

Guest voice for today's movie review is Jim D. Gillentine. Spoilers ahead!


Making live action updates to anime or popular comics have been a thing for the last few years. Hollywood has been looking overseas for stories to bring to life on the big screen with... well... not very good results. The thing about these properties, especially the ones from Japan, is that they resonate and mean something for that culture alone.

So when they try to bring those stories over here to the USA, they drop certain elements or plot points to make it more assessable for the American audiences. This ruins the product for the fans that go see these attempts by Hollywood to tap into those stories. The worst examples are the awful Dragonball Evolution (2009) and the recent Ghost in the Shell (2017). These problems are largely avoided in the new movie Alita: Battle Angel, but it isn’t a perfect execution of cinema.

In the year 2563, three hundred years after a war called the The Fall, all life centers around one giant floating city called Zalem where the rich and privileged live. Beneath this haven-like metropolis is Iron City, a dirty, run down slum that surrounds a large pile of junk and scraps that drop down from Zalem above. Here, the kind Dr. Dyson Ido (Christoph Waltz), a cybernetic surgeon, searches the scrap yard for useful parts to treat his patients that need repairs which he usually does for free out of the kindness of his heart.

When the movie opens he is on one of these searches, as he stumbles across the head and torso of a female android that is still alive although in a state of suspended animation. Ido takes the android home and attaches the torso to a cybernetic body that he had intended to use for his daughter that was murdered before he could complete the surgery. After waking up and having no memory of her past life, Ido names the young woman Alita (Rosa Salazar) after his deceased daughter. Alita tries to remember her past life and becomes friends with young Hugo (Keean Johnson), for whom she begins to get feelings for almost immediately.

Ido’s ex-wife Chiren (Jennifer Connelly) tries to convince Ido to come work with her under Vector (Mahershala Ali) to build and repair combatants for the sport motorball, which is Iron City’s only sporting event. Ido refuses, and one night Alita follows Ido at night and finds out that he is not only a doctor, but also a bounty hunter (hunter warrior) that patrols Iron City to capture or kill criminals wondering the streets. Alita steps into a trap set up to kill Ido, fights back and finds out that she instinctively remembers a fighting style of martial arts called Panzer Kunst. A fighting style that only the most deadly of battle androids were trained to use. During the battle, Alita remembers a little bit of her past and decides that she wants to become a hunter warrior to help remember who she used to be.

Alita grows and changes with each new adventure in the movie and we grow with her. I have seen the movie three times so far, and plan on seeing it again. The action in this move is amazing and the special effects are a wonder to behold. The story, although not the best-written, still makes me smile and that leads me to talking about the strengths and weaknesses of this film.


The Good and the Bad About Alita  

Alita suffers from what a lot of movies are trying to do in Hollywood today: the hopes of starting a movie franchise. Characters like Nova are referenced to, mentioned and even seen, but it goes nowhere. This can frustrate moviegoers who want everything wrapped up at the movie’s end and everyone living happily ever after. Thanks to Marvel’s success with their superhero movies, this is becoming a rarer thing with any sicfi or horror movie and I think it is leading to fatigue for moviegoers. 

For me the strengths of this movie far outweigh the weaknesses, and that strength is the character of Alita herself. Rosa Salazar’s performance as Alita shines so brightly in this movie. The design of the character can be off-putting and creepy with the look of the large eyes. But soon you get used to it and find that those large eyes in fact help the character convey her feelings and make you connect with her. When she cries, you cry with her. When she tries chocolate for the first time, you rejoice in the pleasure she is having at its taste.

Spoiler ahead to my favorite scene in the movie. Alita is battling a giant cyborg and when she is damaged, her body ripped to pieces and only having one good arm left to try to move. She seems defeated, broken. The cyborg gloats over Alita and jokes about wearing her as a living pedant to hear her beg to be killed everyday. He says it would be him showing her mercy. Alita, using her one good arm, is able to spring up and ram her arm into the cyborg’s eye. She looks at him and screams: “FUCK YOUR MERCY!” And my heart cheers for her. That is one of the underlining representations in this movie: the hidden strength that women have within themselves and that they don’t need a hero to save them. They have the power to do it alone.

The other thing that shines in this film is the performance of Christoph Waltz as Dr. Dyson Ido. He portrays the father figure for Alita and does a wonderful job as the parent who doesn’t want anything bad to happen to the child they love. But he also portrays how that love can strangle and push away the one you care for when you don’t want that child to grow up and be their own person.

The love story in the film is tragic and plays into one of Alita’s flaws as a person in the film. She is far too trusting and loves far too easily, but that is a character still trying to grow and discover who she really is. Keean Johnson as Hugo does a good job playing the street kid that only wants to get ahead in life, but ends up hurting the one he loves by doing it. Jennifer Connelly as Chiren does okay in the film, but I feel Connelly and Mahershala Ali as Vector are both underused. I wish they could have been given more screen time to flesh out their characters and motives in the movie. But when they are onscreen, they do a fine job with what they are given to do.

The story is based off Yukito Kishiro's manga series Gunnm in Japan that has been running since the early 90s, and is just now entering it final phase where the story will be wrapped up. As a fan of anima and manga, I can say I am very happy about the results of this movie. It is doing well overseas, and I have hopes that the story continues. It has it flaws, and it is far from a perfect film. I think that if you give Alita a chance to look at you with her large eyes, you will enjoy seeing her go from young girl to confident warrior. 


Jim D. Gillentine is an author and arguably the world's biggest Godzilla fan. Find out more about his work at 


BookGeek: The Prince of Tides

It qualifies as being the last one on the bus, but then I never promised CultureGeek reviews would be focused solely on new releases. Far from it; we can learn and enjoy just as much from a 30-year-old novel as from one released yesterday.

So when I tell you that The Prince of Tides is an amazing novel, with the kind of writing that I wish I were capable of producing, it is not hyperbole. It’s a wonderful discovery, just a little late.

I saw the movie back in the 1990s, and was fascinated by some of the best acting that either Barbra Streisand or Nick Nolte had produced. It had a strange juxtaposition of New York introspection and Southern gothic that I had never seen before. And, of course, it had one awful, brutal scene that I never forgot, hand pressed to mouth in horror.

Then friend and fellow author John Hartness posted on Facebook that he thought Pat Conroy’s The Prince of Tides had writing that made him want to become a writer. It struck me that I had picked up an old mass-market paperback of the book at a used-book sale somewhere and I should give it a shot. So really, this is all John's fault.

My paperback has a horrible cheesy romance-novel cover, and if you know anything about the book or the movie, you know it is not a romance. There is love, and a love story at multiple levels. But it is absolutely not a romance.


It was my mother who taught me the southern way of the spirit in its most delicate and intimate forms. My mother believed in the dreams of flowers and animals. Before we went to bed at night as small children, she would reveal to us in her storytelling voice that salmon dreamed of mountain passes and the brown faces of grizzlies hovering over clear rapids. Copperheads, she would say, dreamed of placing their fangs in the shinbones of hunters. Ospreys slept with their feathered, plummeting dreamselves screaming through deep, slow-motion dives toward herring. There were the brute wings of owls in the nightmares of ermine, the downwind approach of timber wolves in the night stillness of elk.

But we never knew about her dreams, for my mother kept us strangers to her own interior life. We knew that bees dreamed of roses, that roses dreamed of the pale hands of florists, that spiders dreamed of luna moths adhered to silver webs. As her children, we were the trustees of her dazzling evensons of the imagination, but did not know that mothers dreamed.


That’s just part of the first page.

The story itself is southern gothic at its finest, with horrors and ignorance and racism and “bless your heart” backstabbing in between the love of the land and the glories of the life and history. But at its heart, it’s the story of a man who is lost between a troubled childhood, a faltering marriage, a dysfunctional family wracked with mental illness and tragedy, and the awful beauty of loving two women at the same time.

I no longer have time in my crazy schedule to stick with every book I read, now that I am in grad school. Some books I have picked up I hated, and discarded without a second thought. Others I despised but carried through, if only because I hoped the ending would wash away its awfulness. (Spoiler alert: it didn’t. That one is going back in the donation box.) Instead, I find I am seeking out more and more reading to evaluate craft and style and language, perhaps in the hopes of taking my work to the next level.

Conroy’s writing is conversational but also dense with description. He paints pictures with words far more elaborate and beautiful (or awful) than the penny-ante art on the cover of my paperback. You don’t skim it the way you might more conventional genre novels. In part it’s a mystery: what happened to Tom Wingo’s brilliant, troubled sister Samantha, that would spur her to attempt to take her own life? What happened to all of them to tear the family apart so?

There are no villains here - well, almost none. The father looms large as abusive, cruel, ignorant and a force of terror in his children’s lives… and yet it almost redeems him, as a man who loved his family and could not imagine why the world in which he was raised had changed and his tyranny would no longer be absolved.

Tom himself is not always a reliable narrator, telling his family’s story to us and to a New York psychiatrist as separate from his world as she could be - but she has her own sadness, and her own story, even as she enters the world of the Wingo family.

Oddly, once I finished the novel, I felt that the movie did not quite do it justice. The character of Tom’s brother Luke was barely apparent in the movie, which chose to focus far more on the moment of horror and Tom’s romances. Yet he is a driving force in the novel, and Luke’s life story is as much a part of the family’s trauma as that awful night so gruesomely depicted. (Other omissions make more sense. One word: tiger.) The movie was nominated for seven Academy Awards; I do not know what (if any) awards the novel won, but it deserved them.

I found it fascinating, even though it was far afield from my usual reading. After all, there are no zombies or ghosts rising from the South Carolina swamp to torment the Wingo family. If there are horrors in The Prince of Tides, they are solely human-made. And sometimes those are the worst of all.