Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Movies in July 2015

We're entering the peak of summer and here are this month's movies.

WEEK-BY-WEEK MOVIE PICKS FOR JULY 2015


Terminator: Genisys (July 3)
Ahnuld's back! The franchise reboots itself.


Minions (July 10)
The prequel to the Despicable Me movies looks at the origin of those adorable little yellow whatever-they-are aliens.


Ant-Man (July 17)
Will Marvel's cinematic universe continue to strike gold?


Pixels (July 24)
This Adam Sandler comedy has a goofy premise -- an alien invasion begins when our 1980s broadcasts of video games are perceived as a declaration of war.

OTHER KEY MOVIES IN JULY 2015


Amy
The short life of talented singer Amy Winehouse is explored in this documentary.


The Gallows
Students mount a school play twenty years after a tragedy, but everything goes horribly wrong.


Irrational Man
Emma Stone, Joaquin Phoenix, and Parker Posey star in this drama mystery, directed and written by Woody Allen.


Magic Mike XXL
I didn't see the original, but if you did and if you liked it, here's more of the same.


Mr. Holmes
Ian McKellen plays Sherlock Holmes in the twilight of his life.


Nowitzki: The Perfect Shot
Here's a feature-length documentary about basketball star Dirk Nowitzki.


Paper Towns
Friends embark on a road trip to find a missing neighbor.


Self/less
Ben Kingsley portrays a wealthy old man, dying of cancer, who has his consciousness transferred into the body of a healthy young man, played by Ryan Reynolds.


Southpaw
This boxing drama stars Jake Gyllenhaall, Rachel McAdams, Forest Whitaker, and others. It's directed by the talented Antoine Fuqua.


The Stanford Prison Experiment
The trailer for this movie, allegedly based on a real story, is creepy and disturbing, about a social experiment that goes awry.


Trainwreck
Judd Apatow directs a comedy starring Amy Schumer and Bill Hader.


The Vatican Tapes
If you like exorcism horror movies, here's the latest one.

OTHER TITLES IN JULY 2015


Cartel Land

Do I Sound Gay?

Jackie and Ryan

Jimmy's Hall

The Look of Silence

Mala Mala

Tangerine

Will you be seeing any of these?

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Diversity in Comics

It's good to see comic books adding more diverse characters that reflect a broader portion of their readers after white male characters have dominated the medium for nearly a century. I've been a superhero comics fan since I can remember and I have no objection to the traditional good guys whose stories entertained me growing up -- Clark Kent, Bruce Wayne, Dr. Bruce Banner, Peter Parker, and all the rest -- but it's long overdue to show women and characters of color as strong protagonists as well. The problem though is that the two major mainstream comic publishers, DC and Marvel, still have a long way to go. It's not enough to promote sidekicks to the spotlight or temporarily cast a new person as a familiar hero -- we need to see more original heroes without relying on the ones who have come before.

While it's interesting to see Kryptonian Val-Zod of Earth 2 don the Superman costume, writers, artists, and editors should be bold and confident enough to create new storylines that bring all-new, powerful characters to life who can stand on their own for an entire new generation without any pre-existing icons to serve as crutches.


We've seen Jane Foster become Thor, the Falcon Sam Wilson (the first African-American superhero in mainstream comic books back in 1969) become Captain America, and Ms. Marvel Carol Danvers become Captain Marvel, and although it's been wonderful, it would be even more fantastic to see strong all-new characters emerge in their own right.


Many readers today, when they think of Spider-man, picture Miles Morales, a terrific character created for Marvel's Ultimate line who has now been added to the comic publisher's main universe. Just as the Silver Age embraced Hal Jordan as the new Green Lantern and Barry Allen as the new Flash (and later audiences loved Kyle Rayner and Wally West), it's a sign of progress to have a more diverse group of heroes picking up the mantle. African-American John Stewart has become a favorite and Muslim-American Simon Baz was a noble if controversial storytelling experiment.

Many other characters have inspired audiences and filled the diversity-void. Blade went from a fringe vampire-hunting character to the breakthrough star played by Wesley Snipes in the movie series that arguably launched Marvel as a Hollywood force. Yet while War Machine, Supergirl, She-Hulk, and Batgirl are beloved by many, the completely original characters, such as Black Panther, Bishop, Storm, and Spawn, are even better.

I welcome the day when Cyborg and Luke Cage will be joined by many other creative, original heroes who represent different backgrounds and cultures, while sharing those universal heroic traits that readers continue to crave.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Sherlock Holmes at Lyndhurst Mansion

My wife and I were fortunate to see the opening night performance of the sold out run of Sherlock Holmes: The Adventure of the Dancing Men, presented by M&M Performing Arts Company Inc. at the marvelous Lyndhurst Mansion in Tarrytown, New York. This isn't just a show, it's an unforgettable experience.  Overlooking the Hudson River, the Gothic Revival landmark on 67 pristine acres, which served as a location for Dark Shadows and Reversal of Fortune, isn't just a perfect setting, it's also a character itself, representing Ridling Thorpe Manor in England for the mystery adapted by Tal Aviezer from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's tale.


This is Aviezer's second adaptation of a Holmes mystery. I previously reviewed The Adventure of the Speckled Band, which was performed at the Cahill Theater on the campus of the College of Mount St. Vincent, and although that was a fine traditional theatrical production, this newest version takes it to another level. The Adventure of the Dancing Men is a site specific example of performance art, taking its audience from room to room in the Lyndurst Mansion. Yes, even the audience itself is part of the story, an intimate group on a tour of the esteemed Cubitt family home, only to witness the unfolding intrigue that eventually leads to murder.


Melinda O'Brien plays Mrs. Pumblechook, the tour guide who leads the audience around the Norfolk mansion (and also through dramatic-license slight-of-hand to that familiar London address 221B Baker Street). It's a well-executed set-up that brings the audience from scene to scene, all the while keeping everyone engaged in the plot and interacting with the actors, even looking for clues alongside the detective.


I cannot stress enough how perfect Lyndhurst is for a story like this. No theatrical set could reproduce the real thing -- the architecture, the furniture, the artwork, the outdoor vistas, all adding up to transport the audience's imaginations to 1888.


The scenario, based on one of Doyle's short stories, has all the familiar elements we've come to expect from a Sherlock Holmes mystery. Cryptic notes are being left behind, causing tension between Mr. Hilton Cubitt and his young American wife Elsie. The brilliant detective is summoned to solve the hieroglyphic scribblings, which grow more threatening as the plot unfolds.


Michael Muldoon is magnificent and quite endearing as Hilton, trying to understand what is happening without breaking his vow not to pry into his bride's hidden past. Likewise, Zoey J. Rutherford brings a range of believable emotions to the role of Elsie, building up to the inevitable violent climax.


Tal Aviezer once again portrays Sherlock Holmes, a role that has been brought to life so many times by so many other noteworthy actors. To his credit, he makes the character his own, paying homage to some of the characteristics fans have come to expect (like the use of a magnifying glass and reference to the detective's cocaine habit) while bringing his own interpretation and adding memorable nuances to the part.


As the detective's companion and chronicler Dr. Watson, Joe Laureiro continues to shine. As in the written text on which this play draws its inspiration, in many ways Watson is the link for the audience into this world of deduction, asking the questions that we would ask, showing astonishment at Sherlock's near inhuman ability to reason and find answers to daunting puzzles. Laureiro is a very human Watson, and we instantly connect with him.


It's a shame more people won't have the chance to see this production, but those who already have their tickets are in for a treat. Director Holland Renton has outdone herself, seemlessly staging the action throughout the Lyndhurst Mansion and delivering what is sure to be an experience to remember for Sherlock die-hards and novices alike.

The sold out performances conclude on June 28, 2015, but you can see Sherlock Holmes again in Red Monkey Theater's new adaptation of The Adventure of the Red-Headed League in October at the Cahill Theater in Riverdale, and maybe he'll appear in further mysteries at Lyndhurst Mansion and elsewhere in the future.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Book Recommendations -- June 2015

Are you still looking for books to read during your summer vacation? It's time once again for my monthly recommendations.


The Coloring Book: A Comedian Solves Race Relations in America by Colin Quinn
Yes, former Saturday Night Live comedian Colin Quinn is opinionated, but he's also a good writer.


The Darkling Child: The Defenders of Shannara by Terry Brooks
They're turning the Shannara saga into a television series, but the books continue. Sorcerers, magic, and powerful weapons are once again the key elements of this fantasy tale.


Dead Ice by Laurell K. Hamilton
Hamilton continues her bestselling Anita Blake series. In this newest novel, the Vampire Hunter deals with zombies.


Eight World Cups: My Journey Through the Beauty and Dark Side of Soccer by George Vecsey
With the FIFA scandal fresh in the news, this is a timely book, looking back at the positives and negatives of the most popular sporting event in the world.


The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings -- J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Owen Barfield, Charles Williams by Philip and Carol Zaleski
The authors examine how four literary masters met every week to discuss literature, religion, philosophy, and culture.


Finders Keepers by Stephen King
The prolific King of Horror keeps churning them out. This isn't technically a sequel to his last hit Mr. Mercedes, since this new tome stands on its own, but the trio of heroes from that prior book return for another adventure.


How Music Got Free: The End of an Industry, the Turn of the Century, and the Patient Zero of Piracy by Stephen Witt
Here's a fascinating reflection on how technology has impacted the music business, from the invention of the mp3 format to the rise and fall of Napster to today's digital file-sharing culture.


iJustine: An Analog Memoir by Justine Ezarik
I'm one of Justine's 3.5 million subscribers and I welcome this autobiographical look at how she gained success on YouTube as one of the first breakout video blogging superstars.


Judy and Liza and Robert and Freddie and David and Sue and Me by Stevie Phillips
The title is terrible but this is still an excellent memoir by Judy Garland's manager, revealing interesting stories from her career in show biz and all the celebrities she encountered.


The League of Regrettable Superheroes: Half-Baked Heroes from Comic Book History by Jon Morris
The author talks about some of the lesser-known characters in comic book history.


The Long Utopia by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter
Pratchett passed away in March but the multi-universe series he was cowriting with Baxter continues here, following up on the three prior volumes: The Long Earth, The Long Mars, and The Long War.


The Master Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg
It's a unique fantasy world that Holmberg has created and continues here. If you enjoyed The Paper Magician and The Glass Magician, you'll likely enjoy this too.


Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari
The actor/comedian writes about how technology has changed our relationships and social interactions.


The Philosopher Kings by Jo Walton
The cover for this and the prior book The Just City make it look like a potentially boring non-fiction history book, but nothing could be farther from the truth.  Gods, time travel, it's all here in an exciting plot.


Shakespeare and the Countess: The Battle That Gave Birth to the Globe by Chris Laoutaris
Now here is an actual no-fiction history book, but it's definitely not boring, especially if you're a fan of the Bard and classical theater.


Sick in the Head: Conversations About Life and Comedy by Judd Apatow
I'm not always a fan of Apatow, but this compilation of his interviews with big-name comedians (Jerry Seinfeld, Mel Brooks, Roseanne Barr, Jon Stewart, Chris Rock, and others) is well worth the read.


Splendid Cities: Color Your Way to Calm by Rosie Goodwin
I wrote about the adult coloring book trend, and here's the latest bestseller to hit the market.


Strangers in the Bronx: DiMaggio, Mantle, and the Changing of the Yankee Guard by Andrew O'Toole
Even Yankee Haters respect the names Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle. This book looks at the year when their careers overlapped.


Tom Clancy's Under Fire by Grant Blackwood
Mr. Clancy may have passed away in 2013, but his characters are still alive and in the hands of other writers. Here we have another thrilling adventure with Jack Ryan, Jr.


We Don't Need Roads: The Making of the Back to the Future Trilogy by Caseen Gaines
One of my favorite movies of all time is Back to the Future and this book documents all the behind the scenes tidbits involved in the making of the trilogy.


Your Baby's First Word Will Be DADA by Jimmy Fallon
Illustrated by Miguel Ordonez, Fallon proves to be a gifted entertainer, taking a stab at a children's book as animal dads try to make their offspring say "Dada."

Send me a message if you have any books you'd like me to plug.