Superstars, Sherlock Holmes and a Brooklyn attorney: movies

Seeing the recent TV presentation of JESUS CHRIST, SUPERSTAR (2018) on TV proves Ethan Mordden’s point that hearing a cast album is not the same as a live show. Although I’ve listened to the album dozens of times, I was really surprised how fast the early scenes before Jesus’ capture move. And I couldn’t tell just from listening how effective Judas’ suicide and Jesus’ ascension were onstage. That aside, the show was fantastic, full of energy, great songs and great voices as we watch the end of Jesus’ ministry in a grimy urban Jerusalem (if I’d had time, I’d have watched Godspell as a double bill for its more upbeat Urban Jesus). With John Legend as the Superstar, Brandon Victor Dixon of Hamilton as Judas, Sara Bareilles as Mary Magdalene and Alice Cooper a rather uninspired Herod. “Always knew that I’d be an apostle/Knew that I could make it if I tried/Then when we retire, we can write the gospels/So they’ll still talk about us when we’ve died.”

For a more flesh and blood superstar, we have Joaquin Phoenix as a young Johnny Cash in WALK THE LINE (2005), playing opposite Reese Witherspoon as June Carter Cash. While the leads are powerful and the movie is well-executed, as TYG pointed out, it recycles the same cliches as countless other musical biopics (the struggle to make it, the struggle to survive fame, drink and cheating, and being saved by the love of a good woman). Watchable, but I’m not sorry I gave it a pass when it was in theaters.“Tell me, what’s the one song you would like to sing to him?”

YOUNG SHERLOCK HOLMES (1985) is the story of how Holmes and Watson met as boarding school teens, discovers a sinister serial killing in the neighborhood and ultimately unmask teacher Antony Higgins (who later played Holmes himself in 1994 Baker Street) as the leader of an Egyptian death cult. This comes off too much a kids’ film and not enough a Young Holmes movie — I could have done without the wacky comedy of the experimental flying machine, and the school could as easily be Hogwarts (see the plucky but poor students triumph over the snobs!). Nor does it help that the cult come off as unreasonable opposing English rule as the natives in, say, 1940’s Drums of Fu Manchu (to say nothing of being led by the very non-Egyptian Higgins). And while the hallucinatory F/X still look god, they’re not terribly fresh. “A mere fluctuation in character is hardly grounds for an investigation.”

Because the murder method in Young Sherlock Holmes involves driving men to suicide, I turned for a double-bill to THE SPIDER WOMAN (1943) which uses the same idea to much more effect. One of the best of the Rathbone Holmes, with Gale Sondergaard as a cunning, formidable foe and incorporating elements from multiple Doyle stories. The only thing that stops it being perfect is the unsatisfying death trap Sondergaard sets for Holmes at the climax. Still, well worth seeing. “Nature provides the means — the Spider Woman merely uses it.”

MY COUSIN VINNIE (1992) is, of course, the legal comedy in which rookie Big Apple attorney Joe Pesci (“Nah, I didn’t pass the bar on my second time either.”) comes to the aid of two “youts” accused of murder in a small Alabama town, only to discover he can’t save them without insight from spitfire fiancee and ace mechanic Marisa Tomei. Very funny (TYG, watching for the first time, enjoyed it too) and very well cast, with Fred Gwynne as the straight-man judge, Lane Smith as the prosecutor, Ralph Macchio as one of the ill-fated kids and Austin Pendleton as a stuttering public defender. This one was a pleasure to rewatch. “I’ll do my best to make it a simple in-and-out procedure.”

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A productive, yet frustrating week

I feel pleased with my work this week. Just getting a good day’s work out of today despite having some sort of allergic reaction to the spring pollen (nothing serious, just kind of wiped out) or maybe the vaccine I got at the doctor’s yesterday makes me pleased with my own commitment.

But the one thing I most wanted to get done was finish No One Can Slay Her, and I didn’t. There’s a problem with the third quarter, and things were hectic enough (very needy dogs, annual medical checkup) that I couldn’t clear my mind enough to pinpoint it. And the downside of my “1,000 words of fiction a day” guideline is that the writing can suck up the time I’d otherwise use to plot, replot and think. That’s not a bad thing — it’s easy to spend lots of time thinking and have nothing to show for it — but in this case it was frustrating. Still, I got a lot done, so I shall take pleasure in that.

Part of the reason I didn’t have time was that my new Screen Rant on Nickelodeon’s Victorious took longer than most of them. It’s a kid’s show I’ve never even heard of (hardly surprising at my age) so I had to do a good deal more research than usual to put it together. But now it’s out, and next week’s should be simple. Below one of my photos from the article, showing future singing star Ariana Grande as space cadet Cat.

As to the checkup, everything looks good, though I definitely need to get back to a more consistent exercise schedule. The past month it’s been a little too chaotic and I keep missing. Today I just felt tooo wiped out.

I did complete the proofing of the Atlas Shagged paperback (I discovered a couple of final changes to make) which will be out early next week. Below, the cover reveal!

I worked on one story about a writer working on a raunchy buddy comedy with werewolves (not sure where it’s going yet). And another about a bookstore with a very strange staff, and as of the last scene, St. Luke as the proprietor (I think I know where it’s going. Maybe). And worked on the next draft of Angels Hate This Man. But I really want to finish No One — the more stories I have out, the better, obviously.

I completed edits on The Grass Is Always Greener requested by the editors at Strange Economics, which had accepted it. I submitted a reprint story to Digial Fantasy. And I got some work done on Undead Sexist Cliches.

Like I said, productive. I shall take pride in what I did and not let the frustration gnaw at me.

#SFWApro. All rights to the Victorious photo remain with current holder. Rights to cover are mine; Atlas image is from John Singer Sargent’s Atlas and the Hesperides.

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New trends in puppy care

More specifically, Plushie-care. He’s been uber-needy the past week, sitting in my lap almost constantly during the work day. I can’t think of anything that would make him feel insecure or crave closer snuggles, so I’m guessing it’s just a phase. After almost four years, I’ve learned dogs go through those.

Plushie’s also also doing something he hasn’t done before: when I sit in the armchair, he’s decided he wants up there too. In the photo below, he got up after Trixie was already there.

This is awesomely cute, but it’s also uncomfortable. Even without Trixie in the chair, it doesn’t fit me and Plush dog, which is why I wind up with my leg swung over the chair arm. My back and leg do not like this position. And with Plush in the chair, it’s nigh impossible to do anything on the computer. But I have a hard time saying no to him (or to Trixie).

So maybe he’s decided he likes the chair and I just happen to be in it. Or maybe he really craves more time in my lap. Who knows? As I’ve mentioned before, the dogs aren’t automatons; they go through moods and phases as much as we do. Cute though it is, I’ll be happy if he moves into a new phase.

As you may have noticed from that photo, we got both him and Trixie trimmed recently. Here’s a better look at our suddenly gazelle-like Trixie.

And here’s Plushie. Looking like he’s maybe a few months old. See why it’s hard to say no?


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Because I love to show cool cover art, that’s why.

So here’s Powers’ cover for Ballard’s The Drowned World, much beloved by Madonna

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The answer is “No!”

As No More Mr. Nice Blog says, Trump voters in rural America will stick by Trump even if his trade war hurts them. As noted in the post and the comments, Republican voters didn’t give Obama credit for boosting the economy; I remember in the 1990s, conservative pundits routinely credited Reagan for the booming economy, while ignoring that this would make him responsible for the Bush I recession. (It’s not just the working/middle class; the business class may dislike Trump but they’re still supporting him).

As several bloggers have pointed out since 2016, opposition to Trump that consists of being “troubled” or not approving of him doesn’t mean shit if you continue to support him. Rep. Matt Gaetz may be more rabidly supportive of Trump, but grudging support’s not any better. But why would they oppose a guy whose policies are solidly conservative?

I also agree with NMMNB that no, Trump’s corruption isn’t an issue either: “drain the swamp” means to get rid of liberals, not to actually fight corruption or stop Scott Pruitt cutting deals with people he regulates (though crossing his boss may soon make Pruitt a non-person). Liberals took away the glorious white male supremacy America used to bask in, so everything liberal is bad, including environmentalism.

Heck, right-wing pundits still blame liberals for Trump’s election. And many on the right are still seething that David Hogg got some of radio conservative Laura Ingraham’s advertisers to drop her (David Hogg, he’s so vicious! And he may have been working with the shooter!). Or that liberals have criticized Roseanne for being a Trumpite (I may post about this again, but I must say I liked the first episode). I’m sure conservatives’ commitment to free speech means they’ll criticize Sinclair Broadcast Group’s enthusiasm for propaganda. Haha, of course they won’t. Just like they’d still be ruining the country as much as possible if Clinton won.

Anti-gay activist Brian Brown wants us to know that the suffering he’s experienced for opposing gay marriage is just like Jesus. Right-wing pastor Chuck Baldwin thinks owning an assault rifle is a Biblical commandment. Alex Jones … well it’s scary people listen to him.

To end on an up note, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has conceded he has to hold special elections even if Republicans lose them. And an alt-right activist says the movement is falling apart. For example, one particularly nasty group is collapsing because some Nazis object to being Satanists.

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Dogs driving me slightly crazy

So no time to write the post I’d planned. Instead, comic book and pulp covers.

Carl Burgos did this old Marvel cover.

I’ve no idea what’s going on in the story behind Gloria Stoll Karn’s cover, but it’s certainly striking. So is Dime Mystery costing 15 cents.

Another pulp cover, courtesy of Walter Popp.

And Murphy Anderson provides this last puzzler.

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So did my new planner really help me? March and quarter goals

So March, I did okay. 50 percent of my goals, but given Trixie being ill, my birthday and our Mensa trip, that’s a lot of days my mind was on other stuff. While some goals I missed eat at me (I really wanted to have No One Can Slay Her done), others I missed by inches (I need one last look at my hard copy Atlas Shagged before greenlighting it). And some were partly out of my hands, like finding an artist for the Atoms for Peace cover.

March 31 also wrapped up the first quarter of the year, which I’d planned out using the Plot Your Work Planner (well, February and March, I didn’t have it for January). Obviously it didn’t make me a flawless, frictionless fiction-producing machine, but I didn’t think it would.

What it did do was help me take my year goals for the biggest projects and break them down. Quarter by quarter. Month by month. Week by week. I found that a large help. I’m not always good about turning my year-goals into month-goals. I can also lose track of goals within a month; saying Finish X and Y by the 31st doesn’t always translate into “I need to do X this week, Y next week, proof both the week after.” Having a hard-copy journal with spaces for this week, next week, and for steps in each project — turns out that’s a huge help.

Reviewing the first quarter it’s obvious that having the planner doesn’t stop me setting slightly more goals than I can manage. But I hadn’t anticipated all the Leaf work I did last month. It looks like I’ll continue doing Leaf for the next couple of months, so my second-quarter goals (plus catching up what I didn’t get done first quarter) are probably a stretch. But what the heck, it’s not like there’s a penalty if I miss them.

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So he wants to execute women who get abortions. Is that any reason not to respect his viewpoints?

So the Atlantic recently announced it was hiring Kevin Williamson to replace Megan McArdle, who’s continuing her life of falling upwards by moving on to the Washington Post. Williamson is the guy who thought Romney would win in 2012 because he has five sons so he reeks of testosterone where Obama with two daughters just gives off a total sissy vibe. Oh, and he also believes in the death penalty for women who get abortions; thinks nothing of referring to a black child as a primate; and more bullshit. Including that the press should name rape victims (“rape accusers” in Williamson’s words)So it’s no surprise, I think, that liberals have been critical of the Atlantic hiring decision (Jessica Valenti shudders at the thought Williamson’s abortion views are apparently acceptable to the editors). As Huffington Post puts, “diversity of opinion” doesn’t mean every viewpoint deserves to be published. And Atlantic (and WaPo, etc., etc.) seem to agree: there’s no attempt to recruit pro-Trump conservatives for mainstream publications, at least so far.

But as I’ve mentioned before, treating someone like Williamson with anything but “I disagree with your opinions, but I wish you well in your new venture” freaks conservatives out. Saying they’re bigots, sexists, that their positions are unreasonable, or suggesting they might be arguing in bad faith, that’s thought policing! So the flak sent at The Atlantic has infuriated the right: just because he made some provocative statements about killing women, what’s the big deal. Libertarian Cathy Young argues that he’s only proposing executions for women who get abortions in the future, not women who’ve already had them so what’s the big deal?

Conservative Timothy Carney sees a Big and Evil plan in criticizing the hiring of Williamson and Megan McArdle: the goal is to intimidate conservatives into walking away from these prestigious positions, silencing them! Admittedly I’d be quite happy if they were gone, but so? Is Carney suggesting they should be free of criticism? Possibly, since he equates the liberal reaction to a plot to “to smash these interlopers’ faces into a plate glass window, take a Polaroid and send it out as a Christmas card.”

David French desperately struggles to paint Williamson’s tweet as just “an ill-considered tweet” in a vast body of great work (regarding Williamson’s greatness, see my first paragraph and links therein). Ignoring, as noted at the link, that Williamson has confirmed, repeatedly, that he stands by what he said.

While conservatives are certainly entitled to advocate for their freedom from criticism, it ain’t a free speech issue. Free speech has never meant freedom from criticism. And they’ve never shown any sign of thinking people who disagree with them deserve the same statement, or that lobbying major media outlets about how they don’t have enough conservative viewpoints is in any way objectionable.  Bari Weiss of the NYT is, for example, shocked and appalled by campus liberals who don’t want conservatives to speak , but she has a long history of trying to get professors critical of Israel fired. Pundit Cheryl Chumley thinks David Hogg’s call for a boycott of Laura Ingraham’s advertisers makes the kid a fascist, is a big fan of boycotts, when used against the left. No More Mr. Nice Blog offers a couple more examples.

And I’m sure nobody on the right’s going to complain about Sylvester Stallone’s brother Frank.

UPDATE: Atlantic editor Jeffrey Goldberg has fired Williamson. Goldberg says that digging into Williamson’s ouevre, he discovered that yes, he really did believe that “hang the women” stuff! OMG, who could have known! What the heck, it’s still a good thing.




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This time it’s personal: Two superhero books by people I know

I assumed PAWN’S GAMBIT: The Pawn Strategem Book One by Darin Kennedy was urban fantasy, but the powers of the characters are actually closer to a superhero team: healer bishop, teleporting knight, Hulk-like rook and POV character Stephen, a pawn who can multiply himself into eight warriors. The premise is that eons ago, a group of wizards set up the game as away to resolve an ongoing cosmic conflict without outright war. Unfortunately the Black King has his own agenda, and whacking the white pieces before they’re chosen is the best way to get it done. Can Stephen find the rest of his side before it’s too late? I enjoyed this one, the only real flaw being the character of the Black Queen who plays the main opposition role here. In contrast to Steven and his team, who are well-developed, the queen’s just Hot and Evil.

SUPERNOVA: Heroes of Arcania Book One by Liz Long is unquestionably a superhero book . Teenage Nova has grown up invulnerable, but that doesn’t help when the calculating criminal Fortune murders Nova’s sister. Before long she’s prowling the city for Fortune and his crew, but Nova’s out of her league. Good thing two more “gifted” teens, Cal and Penny, have shown up in town. The superhero part of the book is good; even though having a murdered relative as motivation is cliche, the opening scene really works. A lot of the story, though, is taken up with the teen romance between Cal and Nova, and high school romance is not my thing, fictionally speaking (it can work, but it really has to be off-the-wall). YMMV obviously. A minor point is that I needed to know more about the Gifted, whom I gather were introduced in Long’s Donovan’s Circus series. Not that people having powers is that complicated a concept, but I couldn’t understand why Penny’s family are so convinced she’s going to the dark side.

#SFWApro. Cover by Roy Mauritsen, all rights to the image remain with current holder.

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Not exactly a movie review post: Beautiful Mornin’ by Ethan Mordden

Due to last weekend’s road trip, I don’t have any movies to review. So I figured the closest thing would be a book about plays, specifically musicals.

BEAUTIFUL’ MORNIN: Broadway Musicals of the 1940s by Ethan Mordden argues that by 1940, Broadway was dying as the 1920s formula parodied in Drowsy Chaperone (no plot, no characterization, just a random collection of musical numbers) ran out of steam. Oklahoma changed that by presenting not a musical comedy but a musical play, one with a solid narrative arc and flesh-and-blood characters (it wasn’t the first to do this, but Broadway hadn’t paid attention before). Mordden shows how this slowly transformed musical theater, along with “concept musicals” such as Allegro (I think I know what he means by this, but I don’t think I could explain it). Equally important, the boom in “original cast” albums (which weren’t always the original cast or the original score) made it possible for people to love shows they’d never seen (my family played Jesus Christ Superstar endlessly), and by keeping the tune alive made it more likely they’d be revived years later. Conversely shows that didn’t receive a cast album might fade away, and the loss of the original staging could give very different ideas about a musical (on stage, the number “Younger Than Springtime” in South Pacific was clearly sung after a night of sex; on the cast album it’s just a love song).

Part of what I like about the book (along with the author’s dry sense of humor) is that Mordden doesn’t just focus on the famous A-listers. He includes good, groundbreaking shows that are more obscure (Lady in the Dark, above), shows that relied entirely on their stars, shows that were just mediocre (like the “flopperetta,” a comic operetta guaranteed to tank) and dying subgenres; the once-popular revue show was fading away, and TV variety shows killed it by offering the same format for free.

I look forward to checking out Mordden’s book on the 1950s musicals some time.

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