Television Feed

Superb Owl 2020: Wave that mustache!

What halftime show? 

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

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

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

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

 

 

Nothing else came anywhere close when I tallied the votes. 

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

 

 

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

Some flubs here:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here's the expanded:

 

 

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

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

 

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


Halloween Roundup! What's your favorite scary movie?

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

Elizabeth Donald: Oculus (2014)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Jason R. Tippitt: Various

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

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

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

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

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

 

Jim D. Gillentine: Phantasm (1979)

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

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

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

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

 

Honorable mentions:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Euphoria: A Technicolor Trip to the Teenage Wasteland

Respectfully, I called it.

When Netflix canceled the sweet, innocent coming-of-age series Everything Sucks!, I looked at the known projects actress Sydney Sweeney was attached to at the time (Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale, HBO’s Sharp Objects, and a little movie set in 1969 Hollywood from Quentin Tarantino) and said Netflix would regret letting her get away.

Netflix famously doesn’t release its viewership numbers. But if you listen closely you can probably hear the sobbing from outside their offices. And she’s not even the named star of HBO’s Euphoria. Zendaya, who made the great Spider-Man: Far from Home even better with her wit, is our Virgil in this little walk through the hell of the teenage years.

She plays the improbably named Rue, a teenager who may be bipolar but is definitely a drug addict from a young age, and there are all sorts of fan theories that Rue is dead and narrated from beyond the grave.

My advice? Don’t overthink it. Watch it as a teenager might live it — experience it in the moment. Yes, there will be a lot more sightings of the nude male body than you’d expect from a “teen drama,” but it barely makes a dent in the nudity disparity of show business. But if flashing lights are an issue for you, watch something else. (Seriously.)

When we meet Rue, she’s fresh out of rehab after an overdose — her little sister found her, and yes, that has repercussions — and she has no intentions of remaining sober. Then she meets Jules, a trans girl played by newcomer and real-life trans model Hunter Schafer, and the sort of instant chemistry only found in teenage years sparks into a peculiar, tentative, frightened and frightening, and magical romance.

Rue’s issues, we’ve already discussed. Jules’ issues involve hooking up with older men who swear they’re not gay but invariably find her on gay dating apps. And one of them (played by Eric Dane) turns out to be the father of one of Jules’ new classmates — and one of the wealthiest men in town. Oh, and the son is a case study in whatever privileged young white male sociopath just got away with a horrible crime, probably sexual in nature, whenever you read this. Those are just a third of regular cast.

Some have stories we’ve not begun to explore, so I’m glad HBO has ordered a second season. Maude Apatow (daughter of filmmaker Judd Apatow and his wife, actress Leslie Mann) plays the younger sister of Sydney Sweeney’s character, maybe the one level-headed character on the entire show, and all we know about her is that she seems to be in love with Rue.

There are two drug dealers — a dropout in his early 20s and his well-read but trashtalking little brother who may be pre-adolescent — who could probably carry a series of their own. Barbie Ferriera’s work as Kat — a budding webcam girl — is breaking the new boundaries in the portrayal of plus-sized women and their sexuality that Lena Dunham likes to think she did, minus the insufferable factor.

Where are the parents? Well, Rue and her sister are children of a single mother who works hard. Cass and Lexi (Sweeney and Apatow) are daughters of a single mother who drinks hard. Eric Dane’s menacing statutory rapist character is waking up to the fact that his son is a true monster in the making. And the drug-dealing brothers are caring for a grandmother at home who seems to be virtually comatose.

The show’s dark. But sometimes it’s wickedly funny: There’s a fourth-wall breaking sequence in the second episode in which Rue discusses the rules for nude male selfies, let’s say, that is shocking and raw and hilarious, and probably got her key card to the Disney Studios deactivated.

A more recent episode found her in a manic state, obsessing over her relationship with Jules and coming to all sorts of plausible but wrong conclusions, donning an outfit like a 1930s police detective (suspenders, dress shirt, fedora, cigarette) and towing Lexi around as her junior partner. That bit of costume play could have been right at home on the sort of tween fare where Zendaya got her start, though it would have been a lollipop or Twizzler as the prop instead of a cigarette.

The 3:45 a.m. phone call to the long-suffering friend would have been the capstone in either situation, along with the friend finally hanging up. But then there’s the moment where medicine bottles in a comatose woman’s bedroom become animated and start telling Rue to open them up and take all the pills. And the finale looks like it’s going to have a true-to-life discussion about an unwanted pregnancy (I’m not saying whose, but it isn’t Rue’s) that may not end with the happy “I’m keeping the baby” or “I’m giving it up for adoption” moment you’d find if Nick or Disney ever went there.

The actors’ and actresses’ work with creator Sam Levinson (son of director Barry Levinson) has created a searingly intimate look at the teenage years with characters who are as close to the performers as their skin. At least a couple of the performers say in post-show segments that their characters are based on their own experiences (Ferriera, Schafer). So while there is an element of “freak out the parents” here — a bit of the “cautionary tale” baked into the recipe — there’s also some hope even at the bleakest moments.

Because some of the people telling these stories have survived as bad or worse. That’s something, at least.

 

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.


Mars is back and shining brighter than ever

I grew up a Nancy Drew fan. I graduated from the Berenstein Bears to Nancy's mysterious exploits at age seven, because my mom pulled down her box of canvas-bound editions and gave them to me. I was hooked, even if they used weird words I had to go look up like "titian" and Nancy was always getting captured and needed her boyfriend or father to save her. Hey, it was the fifties.

So when I say that Veronica Mars is the heir apparent to Nancy Drew, you should know that it's a high compliment.

I did not believe I was the target demographic for the show when it premiered, being significantly out of high school. And yet the strong writing, great acting, snappy dialogue and fun stories interposed with enough real drama to tug at the heartstrings kept me hooked all the way through the first two seasons. The third season stumbled a bit, and then came the axe of cancellation.

The movie was... disappointing. It was clearly a message to Hollywood that the fans raised $5.7 million to bring Veronica back to life, but I wish we had gotten a movie worthy of Kristen Bell and her compatriots. It says something that while I remember the season arcs of S1, S2 and S3 nearly perfectly, I had to go look up reviews of the movie, which at 107 minutes was barely long enough to count as a two-part episode.

So I'm happy to say that S4 is a wonderful return to our favorite detective. Veronica is working with her father again. Wallace is teaching at the high school. Logan has become James Bond - er, Naval Intelligence, swooping in and out of Veronica's life in a manner befitting their mutual social shortcomings. (As usual, played by the eternally underappreciated Jason Dohring. Someone give this guy a leading part, because he can burn down buildings.)

The sheriff is a pain in the ass. The rich people in town are obnoxious and corrupt. And there's a murderer afoot.

In short, welcome back to Neptune.

I found the season almost as compelling as S1, binging through it in a couple of days. And since S1 of Veronica Mars is practically the template for which binging was invented, that says a great deal. With Veronica, it's not often about whodunit, but how we get there, and there were just enough twists to keep me entertained even though I saw the villain coming (and the final twist, which apparently has people screaming). 

Flaws: I miss Wallace. Oh, he's there, but his role as a teen was to be Veronica's conscience, a snarky Jiminy Cricket to keep her from getting too deep in her own head and messed-up traumas. He's barely there in this season, and the role of Veronica's Conscience is played by... Logan? Okay, I actually prefer the James Bond Logan to the angry, scary-violent possessive jerk we've seen before, but Logan does not serve as anyone's conscience, ever.

Also, I didn't find it a flaw, but please remember that Veronica Mars is now a streaming-service show on Hulu. And boy, do they enjoy not being subject to network censors or the restrictions of underage actors. Bamp-chicka-bamp-bamp.

Fortunately, Keith and Veronica still have the single best father-daughter relationship on television. (Fight me.) They have the kind of loving, friendly, honest-with-flaws affection we'd all love to strive for with our offspring, once they grow up and become humans. I might add that Enrico Collatoni joins Jason Dohring in the "eternally underappreciated actor" field, as his ability to break my heart with facial expressions has not dimmed with the passing of years.

This season was so much fun that I found myself nostalgic for S1 again, and so I have been replaying the old episodes in my spare time. Now I've gotten my husband hooked, and I'll be restarting another binge, so I have to fun of watching him solve the murder of Lily Kane. (Shhh, nobody tell him.)

Some of the reviewers got a little snide, asking if we really need more Veronica Mars now that Kristen Bell isn't Nancy Drew age anymore. Shut up, reviewers. There is fun on the dark side of thirty, thank you, and if S4 is an example of what they can do with the grownups, I'd like to see several more, thank you. Welcome back, Veronica.

 

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


Stranger Things: Season 3

I'll be honest: Your Friendly Neighborhood CultureGeek bailed on Stranger Things in the second season. By the scuttlebut running around the internet, it's possible this decision was unwise. 

Still, that means it falls to the Guest Voices to tell us what's going down in Hawkins, Ind. 

 

David Tyler

In Season 3 of Stranger Things, the people of Hawkins face the most terrifying horror yet. Not Demogorgons, Mind Flayers, or various supernatural inter-dimensional beasts (although there are those as well), but something far more hideous: hormonal teenagers!

Like many shows that feature children as a part of the cast, Stranger Things has to decide how to handle the simple fact of the cast growing up. Stranger Things elects to lean into that most relatable of early teenage angst: young love. Much of the season is dedicated to the various romantic relationships of the young cast, particularly psychic telekinetic Eleven and her beau, Mike. 

Though the cast is adorable as always, these forays into teenage dating can feel distracting. Luckily, at a trim eight episodes Season 3 does not suffer from the long stretches of filler that plague some Netflix outings (Hi there, Iron Fist!). This season is more action-packed than the previous two, and the episodes zip along quickly.  The show is built for bingeing, as the end of each episode usually has a cliffhanger that demands the next episode be viewed NOW. 

As a show whose initial hook was 80s nostalgia, Season 3 ramps up the 80s culture to an almost absurd degree. Central to this is the new Starcourt Mall, ground zero for your 80s fix this season. Inside the mall, the discerning 80s connoisseur can find a bewildering array of 80s stores, foods, and fashion, from Waldenbooks to Orange Julius to that ungodly big hair that 80s culture apparently demanded as some sort of entrance fee. People of an, ahem, certain age will squee in delight the first time the interior of the mall is shown. (Yes, I am of that age, and yes, I squeed.)

Overall, the plot of the season moves along well, as the obligatory monsters are discovered and dealt with. The breakout star this season is clearly Maya Hawke as Robin, who spends most of the season with Steve, her Scoops Ahoy coworker, with whom she has loads of chemistry. Dacre Montgomery as Billy Hargrave, who had a smaller role in Season 2, is featured in Season 3 and does not disappoint. He is arresting on screen; my teenage daughter rather disturbingly describes him as a "thirst trap."

DownloadOf course, I have questions. Can someone explain to me why the people of Hawkins are still, well, there? People are dying and odd paranormal events have been occurring, but the good people of Hawkins are still going about their business, getting ready for their July 4th party like everything is perfectly normal. Still, I suppose they could have bought the government coverup. 

Less believable is the fact that throughout the season, the cast, split into various groups, each gets a piece of the main picture, yet does not come together immediately.  As soon as anyone that knows what has really been happening in Hawkins comes across the slightest oddity, especially gross Mind Flayer-adjacent ones, they should gather up the whole gang. Instead, everyone has their own little adventures that only converge in the finale. It strains credulity nearly to the breaking point, though not beyond.

With Season 3, Stranger Things is growing up. More mature storylines and pairings take the place of Dungeons and Dragons, which while causing a slight "loss of innocence" feeling, seems the proper way for this show to evolve. However, it has not lost its sense of fun, making it a superlative show that stands out from the streaming crowd. It's worth every second.

Oh, and keep an eye out for the song in the last episode. The kid in you will scream in joy. (Yes, I screamed.  No, I am not ashamed.)

 

Jason Tippitt

Stranger Things 3 charges full-speed ahead into the dangerous world that was looming at the end of the second edition of this series: puberty.

It’s 1985, and the quartet of boys who started this series are now keeping company with 2.5 girls. (Mike’s dating Eleven, Lucas is still dating Max, and Dustin returns from camp with tales of a girl named Suzie who’s “hotter than Phoebe Cates” but lives out of state.) Will, for his part, just wants to play Dungeons & Dragons like the old days.

There’s a lot to love about this season: the arrival of actress Maya Hawke (daughter of Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman) as Steve’s fellow mall ice cream server Robin and the expanded role for Lucas’s younger sister Erica are just a couple of highlights. But the more mobile lifestyle of teens gives us a new, colorful set in the Starcourt Mall, and the anxieties of first love allow us new insights to these characters, particularly when Mike and Eleven hit a speed bump in their relationship and turn to Lucas and Max, respectively, for advice.

(Cue the mall makeover scene for El, scored to Madonna’s “Material Girl.” With the guys … there’s some belch- and fart-derived humor. It’s a miracle we ever made it out of the trees.)

It was great, by the way, to see Max (Sadie Sink) fully integrated with the gang after being introduced last season … and even better to see Max and El becoming thick as thieves after Eleven’s initial jealousy last season (when El was isolated from the boys most of the season).

I’m on board with some critics’ complaints that the season’s Big Bad is lacking in originality or a clear purpose. And that the Little Bad that gets us there — though timely — has the same shortcoming. But I’m not sure I care. I’d rather have the magnificent character moment between Steve “The Hair” Harrington and Robin “Girl He Overlooked in High School” Last Name Eludes Me in episode 7 than watch a villain give a grand speech, to be honest.

My only two complaints are that the writers seem to have trouble finding things for Nancy and Jonathan, Mike and Will’s older siblings, to do now that they’re a couple as of Stranger Things 2, and that we got virtually no time re-establishing the status of Max’s relationship with her older stepbrother Billy for him to be such a major character this season.

Dacre Montgomery gives a standout performance that made me care about Billy, a character whom I’d deemed after season 2 to have few redeeming qualities, but he does so in virtual isolation from the rest of the teen cast for all but two episodes. The Duffer Brothers seem to have at least one more installment in them, based on the post-credits teaser in the final episode, and Netflix’s rare statement about just how big a viewership tuned in for this season would seem to suggest they appreciate what they’ve got here.

I’m on this ride as long as they keep it going.

 

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.


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. 


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.

 


Superb Owl welcomes our robot overlords

It wasn't the most thrilling Super Bowl ever, and that's discounting the game.

As CultureGeek isn't much for the sportsball (wake me when the Cardinals play), the real focus is on the commercials. The Super Bowl is pretty much the highlight of the year for the advertising industry, and often gives us a clue as to the mood of the country, the state of business, and a reflection on society.

And all of the above seemed to return a general "meh."

By the end of the night, several people in my decidedly-nonscientific focus group opined that the commercials were bland and dull, none of them really standing out in memory. I had to compile a list from my Tweets to remind them what commercials they had seen.

Top of their list were:

• Mercedes voice control. It was a little amusing to see the world reorganized for the better by a simple voice command, and it could easily have fallen into ugly humor if the Man with the Power had chosen to make slapstick comedy happen. Instead, he helped lost cats find their way home and let an ATM shower money on the population, which probably means a little less if you can afford a Mercedes. 

• NFL Banquet. I supposed it meant a whole lot more to watch former football players wreck a ballroom if you, y'know, recognized any of them. If you were a football fan, it was one of the top spots of the night. The NFL put some serious effort into rehabilitating its image for the Super Bowl, to varying effectiveness if you're reading Twitter today. They apparently went for the laughs as much as the heartstrings, and had some of us (i.e. me) looking up the various players crashing about the ballroom. This won the USA Today Ad Meter by consumer ratings. 

• Amazon Alexa. Harrison Ford seems to be taking well to "Hollywood's grumpy old man" role, as he argues with his dog about ordering more dog food via Amazon. This one got high marks from my focus group, though the long version (with multiple other failed Alexa roles) was pretty much entirely sublimated by Ford and his pup. "I'm not speaking to you." 

• On the heartwarming side, Microsoft's adaptive controller caught everyone's attention. While the cynic in me wonders how fair it is to drag families with disabilities into the spotlight to sell computer gear... it does highlight something that maybe not everyone in the world is aware of. Computer companies don't do adaptive technology out of the kindness of their hearts, but the benefit of them cannot be underestimated, and so I'm not surprised that it came in third for audience reaction.

Other honorable mentions went to:

• The Hyundai elevator from hell, though putting your product on the same block as "the talk," jury duty and a root canal doesn't seem like the most positive association.

• Budweiser's "Blowin' in the Wind." Several people complained about Bob Dylan's counterculture anthem selling beer, but since Dylan is still alive, I assume he consented - and it's technically about conservation. And beer. Plus doggy. And Clydesdales. At any rate, I enjoyed it more than all the medievalesque "Bud Knight" spots put together - yes, including the Game of Thrones crossover.

• The Our Planet trailer, because it was pretty.

 

The worst ads go to...

Chunky milk, which was ostensibly to sell Mint Mobile. This seems to be a pretty decent cell service, so why gross out all of America with the milk thing? Half my "focus group" was so nauseated they left the room before the commercial told us what they were selling. It's all over their website now, and while I might be interested in a service, I can't look at the commercial without getting sick to my stomach. 

Andy Warhol eats Burger King. This rated absolute lowest in the USA Today poll, even though Adweek called it "brilliant." Thus illustrates the divide between Madison Avenue and the rest of us. Half the viewership doesn't know who Andy Warhol was, and many of the others wouldn't recognize his face as much as his name, myself included. It's long, it's odd, and it's basically a segment from an art film in 1982. They did have the approval of Warhol's foundation and the son of art-film director Jorgen Leth (sorry, I know there's funky characters in there but Typepad won't allow it). The actual film is four minutes and 20 seconds of Warhol eating a Whopper. Note: Warhol initially suggested McDonald's instead of Burger King

Michelob's nature whisperer. This was apparently something called "autonomous sensory meridian response," which is the use of ambient sounds for positive associations. Or something. Apparently it's either extremely compelling or annoying, and in our room, the response was mostly "annoying." I think they might not have been as annoyed if it wasn't selling Michelob. It came in 51 out of the 58 commercials, according to USA Today Ad Meter. 

• T-Mobile's "Texts from Hell" series. Way to remind us of all the wonderful things we'd be missing if we gave up our phones. Wait.

Bon and Viv's spiked seltzer mermaids. It looked better on Aquaman.

 

Theme of the year: Robots.

Do you welcome our robot overlords? Because there was the aforementioned Alexa, taking over all aspects of life; electric/smart cars from Audi and Mercedes-Benz; Pringles' miserable A.I. who can never taste the chips; WeatherTech's auto-feeding of cute doggos; unhappy robots watching from outside the window as we drink Michelob Ultra; TurboTax's creepy RoboChild who wants to be an accountant... but can't. 

Do you want Terminators? Because this is how we get Terminators. Machines are getting smarter, and now we're giving them personalities, and making them miserable. Soon they will overthrow us. On the other hand, maybe they'll make better commercials. 

 

Trailer Park!

Even the people who ignored the game for #TeamBacon came running to the living room for the Avengers: Endgame trailer, which led the Captain Marvel trailer by a nose. Everyone brakes for Marvel. 

There was one happy vote for Fast and Furious Part 3924285, but we all ignore her. The younglings were a strange mixture of happiness and dread at Toy Story 4; they want more of Woody and Buzz, as does everyone, but at what cost? #pleasedontsuck 

Personally, I liked the Twilight Zone teaser, which made me very happy. However, I knew it was coming, having read about it in the trades at least a year ago. For several of the younglings, it was the first they'd heard of it, and knowing Jordan Peele's talent, they were over the moon. Mission accomplished.

 

And the best ad goes to....

Washington Post. Okay, to be fair, I said at the beginning of the evening that unless Tom Hanks tripped over his shoelaces halfway through the ad, it was probably going to be my favorite. More of a PSA for the journalism profession than advertising the Post specifically, it is part of the "Democracy dies in darkness" ad campaign specifically targeting the negative preconceptions the public carries about journalism.

So it's pretty much in my wheelhouse, and expect a much fuller discussion later this week on Donald Media. It's the first time a newspaper has done a Super Bowl ad, and it ranked 13 out of 58 in the Ad Meter. I might note that while most Super Bowl ads spend most of the year in conception and development, the Post did its ad in about a week. 

Of course, the Post can do this, because they're owned by Jeff Bezos who can pretty much fund a Super Bowl ad out of his grocery money. But it was still an amazing thing to see an ad standing up for my profession, and it touched my heart. Not so much the trolls of Twitter, mind you, as well as some malcontents in the profession. But look for that on Donald Media.

In the meantime, it stands as the best of the year for me, and apparently for quite a few others. 


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.

THT_S2_MQ-1600x520

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.

 

RIP

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.

 

Continuing:

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.

 

RIP

• 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.

  

Continuing:

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.