About writing. And reading. And being published. Or not published. On working on being published. Tangents into the pop culture world to come. Especially about movies. And comic books. And movies from comic books.
Well... Christmas is over. Once again. Now you need a break, right?
Well, sit down with a cup of tea and a book about a tea kettle and get in some relaxation. I mean, you do only have a few days to catch a breath before the year changes and everything gets crazy again.
What better way to do that than with something that is completely not about Christmas Get it today while it's only $0.99!
Hopefully, by this point, you've already picked up your copy of Christmas on the Corner for a mere $0.99. If not, you still have time! I think... Maybe you have time. It's one of those countdown deals, so the price is going to go up to $1.99 at some point as it steadily progresses back to its normal cost. $1.99 is still 33% off, though, so it's still a great deal! If you didn't get your copy, yet, rush right over and grab it now! And merry Christmas to you!
Whether you've picked up Christmas or not -- and, if not, I have to wonder what kind of Grinch you are (I mean, it's Christmas, man!) -- today you can capture your own Christmas Angel... for FREE!
Um... Wait a minute... Scratch that bit about "Christmas" Angel. I think that implies a certain... hmm... I'm not certain what that implies, other than something that my Angels are not. Except that "do not be afraid" part when the Angels appear to the shepherds and they all lose control of their bladders. But, then, my Angels, also, are not going to tell you to not be afraid. I think they'd tell you to be very afraid and not care that you were.
At any rate, "Barachiel" is free! today, so you should, you know, click the link and get your copy.
Just be prepared for lots of violence, some sex (what can I say, Lilith shows up), and something not very conventional. But probably more true to actual Angel mythology.
Be on the lookout for more Angels to come your way during this holiday season.
"I'm dreaming of a white Christmas, just like the ones I used to..."
Hold on a minute; white Christmases have never been a thing for me. However, that didn't stop me from dreaming about them when I was a kid. I mean, that's what we're taught as kids, right? It's not really Christmas unless it's a white... Hmm... You could go so many ways with that these days. BUT!
I'm talking about snow, here, and let's leave it at that.
Snow is not exactly common in Louisiana.
Imagine putting kids into a magic wish house around Christmas time in a place where it doesn't snow...
Oh, yeah, I did!
I even wrote it down and, starting today, it's on sale!
Which means you should go buy it. Look, I even gave you a link!
Now, it's true that this is technically a sequel to The House on the Corner, but I think it reads just fine as a stand alone. But I won't complain if you want to go get House, first, and give it a read just so you're all caught up when you get to Christmas.
Go pick up your 66% off copy of Christmas on the Cornertoday!
And, you know, help a guy out. Spread the news around. Or give it as a gift!
Wait, what? Opera review? It's a Wonderful Life is a movie, not an opera!
Don't worry; it's still a movie but, now, it's also an opera.
And, of movies that could be turned into operas, It's a Wonderful Life is, on many levels, the perfect choice. It's also a very daunting choice. I mean, the movie is beloved by so many people... It's a fine line to tread to reproduce something in another medium to the satisfaction of people who love it in its original medium and, yet, make it attractive to people who have no association with it. It's why adapting books can work so well. The percentage of readers is usually small enough that it doesn't matter if they like an adaptation or not. But taking a beloved movie, a movie that millions of people watch every year... Well, that's another story entirely.
And let's just get it out of the way:
I love It's a Wonderful Life, which has nothing to do with it being a Christmas movie (because, let's face it; it's not) and everything to do with loving Jimmy Stewart. And this isn't even my favorite Jimmy Stewart movie, just the one I've watched the most and the one that most people know him from. That said, I wouldn't want to be the one cast to fill his shoes in this operatic adaptation.
But before we get to that, does the opera make me want to partake of the source material? That's a much easier question to answer when you're not already familiar with the source material, just by the way. That said, I don't think the opera would have made me want to watch the movie if I hadn't already seen it. I could be wrong. However, we went to see this with a couple of friends who were both mostly unfamiliar with opera and had never seen the movie, and both of them said they felt like, now, they needed to see the movie. They both had a much greater positive reaction to the opera than I did, which could account for that, especially considering some of my lack of positive reaction came from places where I thought the adaptation was lacking.
The greatest area it was lacking was in its George Bailey. George was played by William Burden, who never felt George enough for me. In the movie, one of the main qualities about George is his enthusiasm, his excitement over all that he plans to do. That's really lacking in the opera and, instead, George comes off as seeming rather depressed through most of the opera, sad all the time. It gave the opera a melancholy feeling that the movie doesn't have. Being a story of hope, I think the melancholy dragged the opera down somewhat; at least, it did for me.
On the other hand, Andriana Chuchman really nailed Mary Hatch. She was a pleasure to watch and listen to.
On the other other hand, Rod Gilfry wasn't quite evil enough as Mr. Potter, though that probably wasn't his fault. He doesn't have enough stage time to let the audience know how despicable he is. We have to rely on George's pronouncement that Potter is like a fat spider in a web preying on everyone else as our measurement on how evil Potter is.
The music and singing were good but, overall, not very memorable. It never really soared, and it seems to me that there should have been opportunities for that. Then, again, I'm not a musician.
Then there's the stage...
SFO generally has great sets. You should know; I talk about them pretty much every time I do an opera review. But this one... Well, it was interesting and a great way to handle the first part of the story. The stage was full of doors floating out in space and was where the angels viewed George's life, where Clara (the angel sent to save George (rather than Clarence from the movie)) learns what she needs to know so that she can help George Bailey as he stands on the bridge ready to jump. And they had angels flying around the stage, too, which was really cool.
As they progressed through George's life, different doors would open and the actors would come out and act out the scenes of the important moments. It was really cool, like visions in space for the angels to watch.
The problem was that that was all there was. When they finally got up to "now" in the story and everything was progressing in the moment, the action was still happening in front of the doors. It made the ending seem less real than it should have. At least for me.
All of that said, I did enjoy the opera. It was good; it just wasn't great. And certainly not as great as I wanted it to be. It was something I was glad to see, but it's not an opera I'd go out of my way to see a second time. And, really, there's nothing wrong with that.
To say that Lovecraft was obsessed with dreams would be an understatement. I should probably do a count of how many of his stories have dreams as a main component, but I'm not going to do that. Someone else probably already has, anyway, and I'm not even going to look and see. Why? Because I just don't care. Generally speaking, Lovecraft's dream stuff is ludicrous. Yeah, you can probably tell I'm at the end of my patience with Lovecraft and his shit. Because his stuff was, on the whole, shit. And his writing didn't get better as he practiced. If anything, it got worse. Like with this story...
Granted, his career was cut short by his early death but after... some way too large amount of stories, you'd expect them to start improving. You'd expect some sort of variation or evolution or... SOMETHING! But, no, as with Tim Burton and his inability to quit putting Edward Scissorhands into every fucking movie he makes, Lovecraft seemed to have gotten stuck on one idea and just kept revolving around it and around it and around it. Not to mention the fact that "Cyclopean" is probably a word you never need to use more than once in your lifetime (unless you play Magic, because some the cards make use of the word), and Lovecraft used it ALL THE FUCKING TIME!
And, sheesh! Yes, I know that Edward Scissorhands is not literally in every one of Burton's movies, but, if you watch Burton end to end, I think you'll find he mostly keeps making that same movie over and over again. Mostly.
But I digress...
So, yeah, this book... Young man obsessed with oculty things moves into a house that was previously owned by a woman accused of being a witch. He starts having strange dreams... until all the evidence begins to show that they are not dreams at all, but he keeps telling himself they are. Basically, he ignores all the evidence and refuses to really do anything to stop what's happening, choosing to live in la-la land instead, until it's too late and people end up dead. Pretty typical Lovecraft.
Sounds kind of like Republicans, actually...
-- "I'm thinking fast thoughts; nothing's happening!"
Remember Fulcrum? Fulcrum was Ahsoka. But Fulcrum is also like 007, just a code name that gets passed around. So there's been a new Fulcrum since Ahsoka's... let's just call it a disappearance. We never did see the body, after all.
Generally speaking, Fulcrum is just a name that gets tossed out upon occasion as a reason for a particular mission. At least, that's how it's been since Ahsoka. But, this episode, our heroes come face to face with Fulcrum and, let's just say, it's a big surprise.
But I'm not going to tell you who it is.
Let's just say that this episode is a good example of tying in past events.
The only problem? Thrawn may already be onto Fulcrum. But we'll just have to see how that plays out.
Boy, that Thrawn just shows up at the most inconvenient of times!
-- "Come on; when have I asked you to trust me and it hasn't worked out?"
Oh, look! It's Hondo!
That's me in prepping this post before I've watched the episode. But, now, I have to go watch the episode because, look!, it's Hondo!
We always love a good Hondo episode.
I mean, an episode with Hondo is always good! Well, except for that one. But "that one" was clearly an aberration before they'd figured out what kind of character he was going to be.
And, no, that is not a use of the royal "we;" it's just an acknowledgement that everyone loves Hondo.
That should be a show: Everyone Loves Hondo. Or, maybe, Hondo's the Boss. Mad Hondo? Hmm... I think I like this game.
Completely aside from Hondo, this episode had the best moment of all of the Rebels episodes so far, possibly the best Star Wars moment ever. Okay, so that might be going a little too far, but both my son and I burst out laughing. It was great moment. And, no, I'm not going to tell you what happened, because you need to see it for yourself. And if you don't know what moment I'm talking about... well, there's no hope for you.
This is a very fun episode. It's a light heist sort of thing. The looting sort of heist with mild danger. No heavy themes or plot, just some fun theft. Or the desire for theft. But, hey, it's thefting from the Empire, so it's all good, right? Right!
And that's all I'm going to say. You should just watch the episode. Even if you have never seen another episode of Rebels or The Clone Wars. Sure, some of it will be lost on you, but I think it's fun enough that you won't care.
"I know that the two of you have had your past... conflagrations."
"I don't care what you have to offer; I'm not allowing... that on my ship."
"You are like family! Short... fragrant... family."
There are times when I read a book or watch a movie then refer back to the blurb about the work and wonder if the person who wrote that blurb actually partook of the material. I've come to decide that the answer to that is "no." The writer of the blurb watched, maybe, the first 10 minutes of the movie or read the first chapter or two of the book, enough to give them an idea of what they assumed the work was about, then wrote the summary based on that. And, you know, maybe that actually works for some material, maybe even most material, but, for anything complex, it does not. So, despite the talk to the contrary, Widows is not a heist movie [and, just to say it, The House on the Corner is not a haunted house story (or a heist story)]. Sure, it has a heist in it, but that doesn't make it a "heist movie."
What, then, is the movie about? In a word, I'm going to say that the movie is about betrayal. Betrayal and the far-reaching effects of it. I would say more, but anything else would be all spoilery, and you should really see this movie without it being spoiled for you. I mean, Gillian Flynn co-wrote it, so you know it's gonna have some twists in it, and I don't want to ruin those for anyone.
The movie does begin with a heist, a heist gone wrong. Tragically wrong. Which is what sets in motion the events of the rest of the movie, as the widows of the men killed try to pick up the pieces of their lives. The women, all of them, are interesting and complex characters and each is extremely well acted.
The movie rests on the very capable shoulders of Viola Davis, whose character, Veronica, is dealing with two tragedies plus the threat of violence against her. She is cold and hard and determined, and every part of Davis exudes these characteristics. She is more than believable in her role.
As may be expected by Steve McQueen (remember, he made 12 Years a Slave), the movie deals with themes of racism, while not actually being about racism. It's also politically relevant, pitting Jack Mulligan (played by Colin Farrell), who could pass for a somewhat progressive Democrat (at least, he's trying to do things for the betterment of the people whom he wants to represent), against his father, Tom Mulligan (Robert Duvall), a flaming racist Republican who only wants power for the sake of the power and not allowing African Americans the chance to have any. There's a great scene between the two of them... Well, that's all I'm going to say about that.
Also, I'll admit to having a Duvall bias. Between The Natural and Lonesome Dove, I came to love him as an actor while I was a teenager. And I tend to always think that Colin Farrell doesn't get the attention he deserves. He's not necessarily great at picking roles, but he's a great actor.
On the other hand, Liam Neeson has become a cardboard cutout of himself. Fortunately, this is another of those roles for him where he just gets to be that same kind of guy. Which is to say that he was just fine and did everything that was required of him in the movie.
Of the movies being talked about for Best Picture nominations this year, this is not my pick. However, of the movies my wife and I have seen so far of the probable nominations, this is the one we have talked about most since seeing it. I'm telling you, this movie has layers. It is the only one that we've decided that we actually must see again (though that will likely not be in the theater) because, now, knowing how it ends, we want to see some scenes again with that knowledge in our heads.
Also, I don't know that I'd say this is a "must see" movie, but it's very good and worth seeing. At least it is if you like movies that aren't quite as straightforward as they may seem and that will make you think, because this movie is likely to make you think. You probably can't ask more of a movie than that.
To be honest, this is going to be less a review and more a reflection. Just so you know.
I was never into Queen when I was growing up. It wasn't my kind of music. I grew up in a house where almost all the music that was played when I was a kid in the 70s was 60s folk music. Until I was about 15, my musical world mostly consisted of Simon and Garfunkel; Peter, Paul, and Mary; and Bob Dylan. With a little bit of Kenny Rogers, Glen Campbell, and "Believe It or Not" thrown in. It didn't help that the church we went to held to a view that rock music was of the Devil. I don't know that that was ever explicitly said (at least not until I was a teenager and started to listen to a bit of rock), but the attitude was pervasive enough that I didn't have trouble picking up on it.
That said, songs like "We Will Rock You" and "We Are the Champions" made me uncomfortable at best. However, it was "Another One Bites the Dust" that was the first of their songs that really entered my world. One of my best friends (who was a two grades ahead of me and someone I really looked up to) was really into Queen and that song in particular. A song that was the target of the religious Right as containing a secret backmasked messaged about the fun of marijuana. My friend had the album on vinyl, so we spent a not inconsiderable amount of time spinning the record backwards trying to hear it. Yeah, we never did.
Of course, that was only the precursor to the debate over Mercury's sexuality. One of many of similar debates including Elton John, George Michael, and, well, never mind... There was no debate over Boy George; everyone had already made up their minds, whether it was true or not.
Maybe if I had been more invested in the music of any of these people, then I would have cared more about the "discussions," but I didn't need to defend my listening choices against the attempted vilification of these people and their music by the "church." Not that I thought it should matter. Whether I liked the music or not had nothing to do with whom the singer (or members of the band or whatever) was fucking, and, if I liked it, I didn't much care what other people had to say about it, as was entirely apparent when I did discover rock music at 15. I didn't understand why it should matter to anyone.
But it did. To the point where my friend, the one who loved Queen, got into an actual fist fight over whether Freddy Mercury was or was not gay. It was very (very!) important to him that Mercury not be gay. The other boy was just taunting him over it. Imagine his surprise...
Needless to say, I have a much greater appreciation of Queen at this point in my life. Both for the band and for their music, even if "We Will Rock You" and "We Are the Champions" will never be among my favorite songs. I have an even greater appreciation for Freddy Mercury and who he was as a person. He may have been a musical genius, at least when he was in collaboration with his band mates, and he died too young. He was younger than I am now, which is difficult for me to grasp for some reason.
The movie was great. I won't go back to the theater to see it again (because there are too many movies we need to see coming out right now), but I am going to see this one again. Rami Malek was incredible. I'm not familiar enough with him to know how incredible, but he was outstanding. All of the actors playing the band members were great. By my standard of knowing a good movie by whether it makes my wife cry, this movie was great. I think she spent a solid 15-20 minutes in tears toward the end of the film.
I think this is one of those "must see" movies. If you like Queen, it certainly is. I think if you don't like Queen, it probably should be, too. There are too many struggles highlighted in the movie that we are still dealing with today for people not to see it. Of course, the people who probably ought to see it most, won't; because that's how that kind of thing goes. It doesn't mean they shouldn't see it, though, just that they are too closed-minded and uncaring to understand.
Oh, and I just have to say, the bit with Mike Myers over the song "Bohemian Rhapsody" was epic.
Here's my closing thought, one I had during the movie:
What if I'm not pretending to be someone I'm not but pretending to be someone I'm not yet.
My question as I'm sitting here staring at my screen and thinking about this movie is this:
Are comedians somehow more -- "qualified" is not exactly the word I want to use, maybe "adept"? -- more something, at any rate, than other actors in dramatic and tragic roles? They certainly seem better at disappearing into those roles than other actors. But, then, comedy has tragedy at its heart, so I suppose it makes sense.
What I know for certain is that Melissa McCarthy is great in her role as Lee Israel, a down on her luck author who turns to literary crime to support herself. I bet you didn't know literary crime was a thing, did you? At least not a thing you can make money at, but, then, you can look at some of the best sellers and see that, sometimes at least, crime really does pay. Of course, that's not the kind of crime I'm talking about here. Israel's crime was forging letters from famous, deceased authors and actors and selling them off to collectors.
To its credit, the movie did make me want to read the book it's based on... or, at least, it made me want to want to. Knowing myself, I know that I will never actually read it because I'm not quite curious enough to follow through on that, but, if I had the book right here in front of me, I would give it the chance to suck me in. After all, it is by and about an author and her author journey. Sort of.
Anyway... Melissa McCarthy. She's great. Funny, funny lady. We, my wife and I, love her, though I'm sure my wife loves her more. I'm not sure I would have been interested in seeing this movie without her in it. It's an interesting story, but McCarthy makes it captivating. Obviously, I never met Lee Israel, but it seems from the things I've read about Israel and the things she said about what she did
that McCarthy really captured her spirit. She's worth the movie, which is good since she's the star.
Richard Grant, who plays Israel's sidekick (of a sorts), is also wonderful. Charismatic and charming and, again, tragic. He captures it all. They're a good team. And their relationship is heartbreaking.
It's not my pick for Best Picture, but I do hope it gets nominated. And McCarthy for best actress. She deserves it. And she may be my pick for that category. You should probably see it.