Tag Archives: Theatre

When pirates travel at light-speed, they get … younger! Movies and TV

The seventh and final season of YOUNGER suffered from the pandemic delaying it to two years after the last season, which I assume is why Diana (Miriam Shor) and Zane (Charles Michael Davis) disappear from the cast. Much like S6 it feels like a lot of shuffling pieces across the board to keep the game going: Kelsey (Hilary Duff) gets a big promotion, gets sidelined, leaves, comes back … And Josh (Nico Tortorella) continues feeling like a fifth wheel. Maggie’s (Debi Mazur) arc, on the other hand, felt like two season’s worth of episodes crammed into a handful of scenes.That said, I think they stuck the landing: Kelsey, once again unattached to a guy, heads out to LA to start fresh in a new job (there were hopes for a spinoff but Duff picked another show); Charles and Liza break up (but Liza’s last-minute rush to the airport to encourage him to marry someone else was a great twist on the cliche); and Liza (now promoted to publisher) and Josh maybe start over. I’m not sure that resolves anything given Josh wanted to marry her too (the sticking point for Charles was Liza ruling out getting married again) but nonetheless it worked for me. “He’s iconic — like, genuinely iconic, not millennial-stanning-kombucha iconic.”

STAN LEE’S LIGHTSPEED (2006) is a SyFy direct-to-video in which Jason Connery gains super-speed from a freak accident, dons a costume and goes to work against the nihilist reptilian terrorist the Python. On the level of the 1970s TV pilots I watched as a teen, then again for Cyborgs, Santa Claus and Satan, and I do not mean this as a compliment. It’s lacking in imagination (Lightspeed never does anything beyond run fast), acting (Connery, Lee Majors and Nicole Eggert are the big names) and very sexist in the gratuitous torture Python inflicts on Eggert.

SHALLOW GRAVE (1994) has three obnoxious roommates take in an older man as fourth only to have him die on them, leaving behind a suitcase full of cash — well, obviously no downside to keeping it for themselves, right? With Ewan McGregor and Christopher Eccleston as two of the roomies this is a solid little British noir that would double bill well with A Simple Plan.“I would do the same thing only I’m not his type.”

THE CRADLE SNATCHERS (1927) is another early Howard Hawks film, wherein three wives decide to teach their straying husbands a lesson by hiring young collegians to flirt with and thereby make their husbands jealous. This fast-paced comedy feels more like a Hawks film than Paid to Love, but the story is too busy and disorganized to work. “Being Spanish and an osteopath is what got you this job.”

PIRATES OF PENZANCE was last year’s Durham Savoyards production, which I bought on DVD and finally got around to (it’s a shame I didn’t switch the viewing order for this and Lightspeed as the latter wouldn’t have suffered from the dogs distracting me). Not as distinctive in style as many of the Savoyards’ productions but a fun performance of the Gilbert and Sullivan pirate spoof nonetheless. “With courage rare/and resolution manly/For death prepare/unhappy General Stanley.”

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Pulp SF, Broadway, India and food! Books read

ASTOUNDING: John W Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, L. Ron Hubbard and the Golden Age of Science Fiction by Alec Nevala-Lee look sat the lives of the people who shaped what SF would look like for the next thirty or forty years (regrettably I couldn’t find a convenient cover from the magazine).

Having fallen into editorship of Astounding by luck, Campbell proceeded to transform it by pushing writers to de-emphasize gadgets in favor of compelling stories and stronger characters — though he preferred competent, capable men to the ordinary people and losers of so many Twilight Zone tales.He did the same for fantasy with Unknown, but it didn’t last long.

Campbell vastly improved the quality of specfic though it might have happened anyway: Isaac Asimov speculates at one point that if author Stanley Weinbaum had lived longer, his amazing stories would have redefined the genre even without Campbell. Campbell was also racist and while I doubt any other editor would have been more open to diversity in the 1930s, his view of women and POC certainly hindered the field in later decades.

Beyond the impact on the field, Nevala-Lee does a good job capturing the brittle egos, unstable marriages and lechery of her subjects, among other flaws. While Hubbard comes off worst — a womanizer and a serial liar — in other ways Astounding improves my view of the man. In his prime, he was way more successful as an author than I realized and despite his statements about the bottom-line benefits of starting your own religion, Nevala-Lee concludes he started out as a sincere believer in Dianetics (AKA Scientology) and only gradually turned cult leader.

On a personal note, I had one of my many “I wish I’d read that sooner” moments when I learned that Campbell identified the shapeshifter of Who Goes There? with his manipulative, deceitful (or so he saw her) mother. It would have been good to know when I was writing about gender issues in The Thing for The Aliens Are Here.

COMING UP ROSES: The Broadway Musical in the 1950s by Ethan Mordden looks at an era when hit Broadway tunes routinely played on mainstream radio and Broadway success created stars in movies (Julie Andrews) or TV (Carol Burnett). Rodgers and Hammerstein, having established the musical play as a genre with Oklahoma — something Mordden discusses in his Beautiful Mornin’ — they were still breaking fresh ground and inspiring others to follow in their tracks.

Mordden argues that while My Fair Lady was the decade’s big hit — he credits this to the script using enough of George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion to give it a unique feel — Candide was the wave of the future. (“It didn’t directly influence anything but it proved the musical could do anything.”). He also writes about star vehicles, the occasional operetta or musical review, brilliant failures and “floppo” shows such as Ankles Aweigh, produced by a man who thought Oklahoma and My Fair Lady were draining the fun out of Broadway. An excellent book if you’re into the topic.

THE WIDOWS OF MALABAR HILL by Sujata Massey is a historical mystery set in 1920s Bombay, where female solicitor Perveen (inspired by a real female lawyer of the era) takes point for her father’s law firm in investigating whether the eponymous widows are being cheated out of their inheritance: as they’re strict Muslims unwilling to talk with a man, Perveen stands the best chance of getting the answers. A mixed bag, good in the historical mystery but not as interesting when it’s just a straight historical novel. Overall worth the reading, though.

KING SOLOMON’S TABLE: A Culinary Exploration of Jewish Cooking From Around the World by Joan Nathan says that due to their wandering over the past couple of millennia, Jewish food history is a mix of the many foods, spices and cooking styles they’ve picked up from one place or another and adapted (and often spread to gentiles elsewhere) as well as the many trade deals they’ve been engaged in, such as Jewish merchants importing chocolate, peppers, tomatoes and potatoes from the New World. Interesting, and some appetizing recipes though I wasn’t in the mood to try them out just now.

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Guess who went to a play?

My schedule was odd last weekend so I didn’t get around to watching any movies. Part of that is because TYG and I took a 40-minute drive to a nearby town to catch a friend of ours performing in the stage version of GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER?

I’m not a fan of the 1967 film it’s based on. As I said in my review years ago, the story of an interracial relationship hamstrings itself by trying to make the radical-for-its-time idea (as the movie notes, at the time the relationship would be illegal in multiple states) acceptable to white audiences. Poitier is a model minority, a brilliant doctor who does international charity work, and the film emphasizes he’s a post-racial guy with no interest in activism or fighting for civil rights — the best way to achieve equality is wait for the angry older generation of whites and blacks to pass on and leave the world to people like him. As in Star Trek: Let This Be Your Last Battlefield, the oppressed and the oppressor both contribute to the problem.

I don’t know when they adapted the film into a stage play but it’s with a much better script. There’s a much sharper sense that no, the system will not miraculously improve if you stubbornly refuse to see color. At one point the black doctor’s father waits outside in the car, simmering with rage, then he comes back in, worried someone might shoot him as a suspicious individual. The movie doesn’t look at that side of things.

The black housekeeper in the movie says a lot of stuff some whites in the audience might be thinking, like how Poitier’s doctor is getting above his position dating a white woman; in the play she’s suspicious of him but it’s the suspicion of someone who’s moving to marriage after ten days of dating. Joanna (the female half of the marriage) still comes across too innocent to believe she can really handle the crap this relationship will generate.

While obviously the cast lacks the star power of Poitier, Hepburn and Tracy, the cast (including our friend Gerald Rubin, as the dad) do well; the show starts slow but picks up steam fast.  We thoroughly enjoyed it. “I never trust a man in a nice suit outside of church.”

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So I rewatched a lot of movies while on vacation …

Because sometimes it’s good to do so with friends.

THE MATING SEASON (1951) is a delightful comedy in which short-order cook Thelma Ritter decides to move in with son John Lund only to reconsider when she learns he’s a)newly married to Gene Tierney and b)hasn’t been honest about coming from working-class stock. When she shows up at the door, however, Tierney mistakes her for the employment-agency cook she requested, which, of course, complicates everything.

Will Tierney figure things out? Will Lund’s boss get to first base with the tart-tongued cook? A talented cast and a very funny film. “You’re utterly unequipped for such a marriage—does he know you were brought up in an embassy with twenty servants?”

THE THIEF OF BAGHDAD (1940) remains a favorite fantasy of mine even though it’s a European orientalist fantasy with a white cast in brownface. John Justin plays the well-meaning sultan of Baghdad, unaware vizier/sorcerer Jaffar (Conrad Veidt) has been subverting his rule and turning the people against him (it’s a staple of old swashbucklers—monarchy is not the problem, trusting in the wrong advisers is where kings go wrong). With the help of the titular thief (Sabu), the sultan escapes Jaffar’s plans to kill him, falls in love and finally frees his city from the sorcerer’s tyranny. I’ve written about the film’s characters before, but I found myself even more impressed with Veidt’s performance this time; when he finally gets to embrace the princess, he does it like he can’t believe he’s finally gotten the girl (spoiler: he hasn’t). “Allah be with you — though I doubt it.”

WHAT’S UP DOC? (1972) remains one of my all-time favorites as chaos-bringing polymath Barbra Streisand falls for perpetually bemused musicologist Ryan O’Neal, jolting him out of his comfort zone and into her arms. Plus we have multiple identical travel bags, jewel thieves, disgruntled hotel manager Jonathan Hillerman, academic fraud and Streisand singing. Always a pleasure. “I can take or leave your sedimentary rocks.”I only caught part of LOVE PUNCH (2013) which is one I haven’t seen before. Emma Thompson and Pierce Brosnan play a divorced couple who discover their retirement funds and their kid’s college fund have all gone south thanks to Brosnan’s company’s new owners sucking out all the money, rendering the stock worthless (yes, the couple made the big mistake of putting all their eggs in one basket). Can a middle-aged couple pull off a caper and recover the money? Amusing enough, and decently performed, that I’ll finish the rest of it eventually. “You know I would never ask you do to anything illegal but I was wondering if you might … stumble into it?”

A CHANGE IN TIME (2022) was a short I caught at ConCarolinas has a British teenager learn that due to someone tampering with his grandfather’s love life, he and his family no longer exist, will he please report for dissolution now? This leads to a desperate effort by him and one of his relatives to put things back on track. Not bad at all.

And as I mentioned yesterday, I caught the play DADDY’S GIRL on vacation. A sweet comedy, it has a Kansas City diner owner coping with his oddball regulars and a daffy new waitress, unaware his dead wife’s ghost and a giggling angel are arranging for the return of the daughter he gave up for adoption after her mother died. Is it the snotty food critic trying to figure out the secret of his special sauce? A biker babe’s daughter with a secret passion for singing? I figured out the answer ahead of the reveal but that didn’t hurt the show it’s funny, well-acted and of course well directed. “How do I know if her daughter can sing?”

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I am tentatively optimistic I have neither long covid or monkeypox

Which is a roundabout way of saying I spent the past week on vacation in Florida, realm of “Typhoid Ron” DeSantis. in Fort Walton Beach, which is dedicated Trump Country so I doubt vax rates are very high. And, of course, flying there alongside god knows who. But if I don’t show any symptoms this week, I guess masking as much as possible paid off.

I picked the date because I’d missed my sister Tracy the last couple of times she went on stage and last weekend she was directing Daddy’s Girl, a comedy about a diner owner possibly meeting his long-lost daughter. Here’s the set:It’s a fun show (review in the next couple of weeks).

TYG has always mocked me for showing up the recommended 2 hours before departure and treating 90 minutes as the absolute minimum. At 5:30 June 9, though, Raleigh Durham Airport was packed, inside and out.I feel justified.

As the overheads on all the flights were packed, it turns out I made a smart move just bringing my backpack. Only three hard-copy books but I had a ton of ebooks I wanted to catch up on, so that worked out well for me.

During the trip I got to spend time with Tracy, our mutual best friend Cindy and her sister Deborah, and meet their dog, Raven Marie. Raven was initially suspicious about a stranger in the house, but she soon warmed up. She showed this by licking me at every opportunity.

I wound up spending more time with my Dad than anticipated, hanging out at his apartment and driving him on a few errands. That was fine, but left me without much time to see anyone else. It’s been two years-plus since I made it down so I think it’s excusable to prioritize family, but I still feel a little guilty. Next time I go, I’ll plan in advance so that I can see Dad and still make time for friends.

And what the heck, I did get the excitement of following Dad around Publix and Sam’s Club. I also got to use his car for myself which let me visit the waterfront during the morning without having to use Lyft or a rental.It’s pretty on the waterfront.Mostly, anyway.

In addition to the gunk, I also got to see a homeless man washing in Santa Rosa Sound and a woman in a cart riding after a black guy she’d been arguing with and shrieking racial epithets. I thought about intervening but he was easily outdistancing her, she wasn’t drawing a gun or calling cops on him so I stayed back.

I did not sleep well — unless I’m beyond exhausted, I wake up between 3:30 and 5 no matter how late I go to bed. And that’s Eastern time, where the Florida Panhandle is on Central so when my hosts go to sleep at 9 or 9:30, it’s 10-10:30 PM for me.

Even so I relaxed a lot. Nothing that had to be done beyond hanging out and relaxing, and after the past couple of months with TYG’s job, that was a welcome break. Even though I didn’t do any stretching while I was there, my body felt quite relaxed. Even my feet were comfortable, which is interesting. Here at home, they routinely feel so stiff I assumed it was age and arthritis, aggravated by bad posture (I get in some weird positions when Plushie stretches out in my lap). Apparently it’s all posture and none of it’s age. So I can fix it if I just figure out how to sit or how often to get up or whatever it is I was doing in Florida that I don’t do normally. This is cool.

I made it back Wednesday and will resume work this morning. For obvious reasons, no week-in-review post this afternoon as this one covers the week.

I had a great break but it’s good to be back home with TYG, the pups and Wisp. Worryingly, Snowdrop hasn’t shown in four days. Fingers crossed he’s okay (and I hope he comes back soon, because TYG adores him).



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Aesthetes, super-freaks, a dead guy and the 4400: this week’s viewing

Last year the Delta variant shut down the Durham Savoyards’ plans to stage Gilbert and Sullivan’s PATIENCE live so the went online (if you want to start with the overture, it’s here). They did a really amazing job adapting the story of Bunthorne — an “aesthetic sham” who spouts poetry to impress his female admirers — Patience, the unsullied milkmaid who has never known love and Algernon, the paragon of poetic perfection who steals her heart and that of the other women.

While the 19th century aesthetic movement (at one point Gilbert considered making it about rival curates instead, but decided mocking the church without offending the audience would be too tricky) is hardly a burning issue for most of us, pretentious artists and their groupies are still a ripe topic for satire. The script also mocks the Victorian meloramatic assumptions about love being unselfish and the twisting logic that leads to.

The Savoyards did a great job adapting Patience to an online environment, having much of the discussion take place in Discord chat rooms or Zoom conferences, with memes flowing in the chat channel (“They say I sleep too much — but I’m just dreaming of you!”). The end results were delightful and I recommend catching them if you’re into Gilbert and Sullivan. “I was the beau ideal of the modern aesthetical/To doubt my inspiration was regarded as heretical/Until you cut me out with your placidity emetical!”

THE DOOM PATROL opened its third season by wrappig up the Covid-shortened S2, with Caulder and his grumpy team putting an end to the Candlemaker. Things get livelier as we move into the real third season: a mysterious time traveler appears, the Doom Patrol dies, Rita travels back in time, the Sisterhood of Dada appears and so do some of the team’s Silver Age foes. It’s a weird, quirky mess in the best way, much more enjoyable than S2 was. “Jane dresses like a deranged sock puppet.”

THE TROUBLE WITH HARRY (1955) was one of my least favorite Hitchcock films when I first caught it and rewatching does not improve it. Harry is a dead guy found in the woods outside a small New England town — did Ed Gwenn accidentally pot him while hunting? Was it Mildred Natwick or Harry’s ex, Shirley Maclaine? Can artist John Forsythe get them all out of it? The running gag is that none of the cast really care about Harry except as an inconvenient problem, about as annoying as a speeding ticket; that might have worked for an Alfred Hitchcock Presents half-hour episode but it stretches to the breaking point here.

The Hitchcock Romance does make an interesting case that this the flip side of the small communities seen in Shadow of a Doubt and Rear Window, the difference being there’s no murderer here: the core cast are all innocents, none of them mistrusts or suspects the others of lying about their ties to the dead guy. I think that’s spot on, but I still don’t care for the film at all. That wouldn’t interest you, doctor — it’s purely personal and not medical.”

When the CW announced it was reviving THE 4400 I was puzzled why — sure, I liked the show, but it wrapped up in 2007; is 15 years long enough in the past a revival is necessary? Much to my surprise, though, it worked. The emphasis here is that the alien abductees mysteriously returned to Detroit are predominantly black, including a trans doctor from the Harlem Renaissance, a woman civil rights activist from the early 1960s and a black lawyer who vanished just 15 years ago — which is still time enough to have transformed the people she loves. And of course the ruthless government agents and bullying cops now feel like the evening news, rather than just something knocking off The X-Files. I do hope this makes it back for S2. “The answers you think you want will only lead to your death nd the death of hose you love.”

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This was worth Apple TV

So as part of getting new iPhones, TYG and I got access to free HBO Max for a year and three months of Apple TV. I didn’t bother much about the latter until I saw they were airing a video of Broadway’s COME FROM AWAY. I signed up (don’t know I’ll keep it when the three months are up though), as I love the soundtrack.After the 9/11 airplane attacks, 7,000 air travelers were diverted away from United States air space and dropped off at an airport next to Gander, Newfoundland, which has a population of around 11,000. The results? Panic, romance, friendship, practical problems (“I went to the store for tampons and pads.”) and fish-kissing. While I”m long past the point at which 9/11 evokes strong emotions in me, the characterizations, conflicts and humor — not to mention the excellent music — worked for me; I imagine it might  work even for future generations for whom 9/11 is a historical footnote. A pleasure to see it after hearing it so often. “We have passengers down at the Moose Club who want to try elk — no, wait, it’s the Elk’s Club and the want to try moose.”

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Some TV, a couple of movies and a play

As I kid I loved Gerry Anderson’s UFO (1970-3), a British series about SHADO, the Supreme Headquarters Alien Defense Organization, fighting to stop aliens from rebuilding their dying race with transplanted human parts (the episode speculates they’re also planning an invasion). Cool tech, UFOs and ETs and some wild-looking futuristic outfits and hairstyles, not to mention sophisticated future tech (the series was set in 1980).

Rewatching a few episodes for Alien Visitors, it’s obvious the critics I resented for talking smack about the show were spot on. Ed Bishop as SHADO’s top dog is a wooden actor and the other cast members aren’t much better (we do get capable guest actors, such as Jean Marsh). Then there’s the sexism, like the butt and boob shots in the opening credits — it’s as if Anderson heard all the criticism of sexism in Star Trek and declared, “Gene Roddenberry, hold my beer!” Having just watched Filmed in Supermarionation last year, I notice the SHADO vehicles look a lot like they were adapted from props for Thunderbirds. So this was a disillusioning rewatching. “Electronic tissue identification is as infalliable as a voice print.”

I had my doubts removing Kate Kane from BATWOMAN would work for me, and sure enough, it didn’t. The season opener has Kate apparently killed (word is the character will be recast eventually), homeless Ryan Wilder (Javicia Leslie) finding the suit and stepping into the Batwoman role, at first reluctantly, then with more confidence.

While I could live without Ruby Rose as the lead (though she had a hard edge I miss), the heart of the show was Kate Kane’s relationships with her father, her good and evil sisters, Luke Fox and Sophie. Without that core, the show just feels hollow. It doesn’t help that new villain Safiyah (Shivaani Ghai) feels like the third and least interesting of Ra’s al Ghul’s daughters. So regrettably, I’m done with this one. “It appears we are under attack — from Bats!”

THE MYSTERIANS (1957) are alien invaders who show up on Japanese soil asking for a home and oh yes, the use of some of our human women; this doesn’t go over well, but with the aliens’ tech advantage, is there anything we can do about it? A spectacular, colorful, entertaining adventure though it’s jarring now that the alien outfits look so much like Power Rangers. “You ask will humans or Mysterians rule the world? Neither — science will rule.”

MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: Ghost Protocol (2011) ups the stakes considerably from III as Ethan Hunt’s (Tom Cruise) team gets tricked into serving as a red herring while the bad guy steals Russia’s nuclear launch codes. Now he’s just a few steps away from triggering the apocalypse (confident that a better world will arise in the aftermath), the IMF has been shut down — can Hunt stop him, even with the help of new team members Jeremy Renner and Paula Patten (“Agent Carter” which wouldn’t have triggered other associations back then). This does explain what happened to Hunt’s marriage (staying on made her a target, so he chose Country over Marriage — bad Ethan!) but not how the villain set up the IMF at the start (if the original “your mission” taped message was a fake, that makes the third time Hunt’s been manipulated by someone in the organization — seriously, how bad is their security?). The plot is just something to bridge the action scenes, but they’re good enough to make that work. “I believe that nuclear war has a place in the natural order.”

VANYA AND SONIA AND MASCHA AND SPIKE was a Christopher Durang production from 2012 that I caught streaming (legally).  Three of the four title characters are siblings named after Chekhov characters (their parents were fanatics for Chekhov’s plays); Vanya (David Hyde Pierce) and Sonia spent years caring for their aged parents and have lived in their home since the parents passed. That makes it unsettling when Mascha (Sigourney Weaver) announces she’s tired of paying the bills on the place and intends to put it up for sale. This is very funny in Durang’s usually askew way. “The younger generation are like that — they strip down to their underwear all the time.”

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Have you ever thought about becoming an intracranial bleeder for fun and profit?

So about a year ago I did a video for Medscape as The Man With Low Testosterone (they’re training videos for doctors to learn how to handle various situations with patients). Today I did another one, as Herman, a man with horrible headaches (caused, I believe by intracranial bleeding, though Herman doesn’t know that) who doesn’t want to go to the E/R. We did this by Zoom so I spent a lot of time yesterday finding a spot in the house where I could film myself against a white wall. Eventually I settled on putting a step ladder in the downstairs bathroom doorway and putting my computer on top of it.

The taping went quite quickly (they were very pleased) and their direction was good; the biggest problem was that I woke up this morning with a slight headache and couldn’t get the idea I had intracranial bleeding out of my mind. That aside I feel as pleased as — well, a young comic book intern!Going over the script before the filming took up more time than expected but the pay is good, so I’m not complaining. Besides that, let’s see …

I got some more Leaf articles done. Last time I was working on them it was early in the pandemic and I found it a real slog. Apparently I’ve adjusted because this batch went down smooth.

I worked on rethinking both The Impossible Takes a Little Longer and Oh The Places You’ll Go! rather than just rewriting and pantsing yet another draft. Don’t get me wrong, the only way I can do early drafts is by winging it, but these have reached the point I need a thorough plot first. Both went well, though not as far along as I wanted.

I continued editing my hard copy of Questionable Minds and I finished the latest draft of Undead Sexist Cliches. Next week I start correcting in hard copy. Reading marketing material I learned I should have started on marketing about three months ago — but if I’d done that in advance I’d have finished the pre-book marketing and wouldn’t have the work ready. So hopefully this’ll work out.

And I posted on Atomic Junkshop about the Justice League’s first story and their use of snail mail as a way to find cases to work on.

I sent out two stories, one of which came back almost immediately. It will, of course, go out again, but it would be nice to get a sale from something besides Leaf. Leaf pays better than most fiction markets I submit to, and I’m pleased with the quality of my work, but getting fiction published is a lot more personal.

I’ll close with a shot of Wisp sleeping on the carpet from the previous week. I had to work so when I got up I hoped she’d join me on the couch but this is good too. If we do bring her inside on a regular basis we won’t be able to pet her all the time so having her relax on her own is good.#SFWApro. Photo is mine; covers are by Dick Giordano (top) and Murphy Anderson and all rights remain with current holder.

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Christmas movie binging begins!

But before I start the constant flow of Christmas treacle into my brain, I caught a few other items Thanksgiving weekend:

A young couple become something RICH AND STRANGE (1931) when a relative’s gift of money lets them travel around the world, only to find themselves pulled apart en route by everything from seasickness to romantic rivals (a dignified veteran falling for the wife, a golddigging fake princess preying on the husband). This Alfred Hitchcock film has some striking visual moments including the husband’s silent-comedy style evening commute and its frustrations and a moonlight walk across a ship’s desk that focuses entirely on feet and floor. However the film’s story is trite and uninteresting, even though The Hitchcock Romance considers it a masterpiece. “The thing about beautiful women like you is that you don’t want enough.”

I had much more fun with ROADSIDE PROPHETS (1992) whose biker protagonist strikes up a new friendship only to have the guy die minutes later. The biker impulsively pays for the cremation, then sets out to scatter his buddy’s ashes at the place in Nevada he requested — assuming the place is findable. Along the way the protagonist meets the usual array of road-trip oddballs including a hero-worshipping teen, a vagabond stripper, a terminally ill couple, an officiousmotel clerk, John Cusack as a dine-and-dash petty crook (“It’s entrapment — the sign said ‘free buffet’!”) and David Carradine, Timothy Leary, Arlo Guthrie and Abby Hoffman in cameos. Self-consciously quirky, but a lot of fun. “I didn’t get to be a management trainee by breaking rules!”

And now the Christmas stuff — CHRISTMAS PERFECTION (2018) combines the premise of 2007’s  Snow Globe (the female protagonist is magically transported to the perfect Christmas village) with William Dean Howell’s short story Christmas Every Day, in that the village never stops celebrating Christmas. No surprise, the protagonist is soon sick of perfection and thinking her imperfect male best friend is looking much more attractive. This is too sugary and low-key to work for me, and there’s something unsatisfying in her BFF/love interest (like they carefully calibrated the soft spot between “conventional” and “too oddball to be sexy.”). “This is some kind of reality show where they gaslight the children of divorce with happiness!”

SNOW GLOBE (2007), by contrast, seems to be turning into a Christmas perennial for me. Christina Milian is really likable as the lead, a Brooklyn baker who’d love an old-fashioned Christmas but her Italian/Cuban family are so loud and obnoxious and green lasagna is their traditional Christmas dinner — but then Milian stumbles into a world inside a snow globe where everything Christmas is picture-perfect. Part of why I like this is that where the preceding movie buts the blame on the protagonist (too much of a control freak to tolerate imperfection), Milian has valid reasons for getting fed up with her family, even though they all work it out in the end. Rewatching, I do wonder about how the magic works — the village is literally in the snow globe, but it somehow has an independent existence — but like wondering how Santa’s sleigh gets around the world so fast, it doesn’t stop me enjoying.  “Aren’t you having an existential crisis right now?”

I’ve had the soundtrack of RAGTIME (based on E.L. Doctorow’s novel) on my iPod for a while and love it, so I plunked down the money for TYG and me to catch a local production. It was money well spent as 1906 America deals with Emma Goldman, polar exploration, Evelyn Nesbit, Harry Houdini and a Ragtime pianist who retaliates for his true love’s death from a police beating with a wave of terrorism, all set to music. Powerful, though downbeat (reminding me of the book American Movie Musical‘s argument that where musicals traditionally showed music bridging strife in the community, modern productions no longer see the rifts as bridgeable). The production was minimalist in design (you can see the set above, though parts of the show took place on the risers above the audience) and used modern dress but effective nonetheless. My only complaint is the way the script paints Nesbit, a rape victim, as some kind of publicity-seeking adulteress. “When you’re trapped/And destruction seems imminent/Look to Houdini/The ultimate immigrant!”

#SFWApro. All rights to poster and set design (photo is mine) remain with current holders.

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