Tuesday, November 14, 2017

NOISES OFF

Deafness and silent movies converge in lyrical Wonderstruck

Filmmaker Todd Haynes is a master visual stylist. Just look at his swoony period aesthetic in Far From Heaven, or Carol.

He has plenty to visualize and to style for the screen in his new movie, Wonderstruck.

With its parallel storylines set in the 1920s and the 1970s, child protagonists, and kids-eye-view of the world, this rare PG-rated experiment from Haynes may be less filling, plotwise, than his grown-up movies, but it still looks great.

It's adapted from his own novel by Brian Selznick, whose very first book was made into the rapturous movie Hugo.

Selznick's books are a genre unto themselves, combining a certain amount of prose storytelling with extravagantly detailed pencil illustrations that sprawl across the pages.
She loves New York: Millicent Simmonds in Wonderstruck

Presenting his stories in visual terms must come naturally to the author related through his grandfather to Hollywood Golden Age producer David O. Selznick.

So it's no wonder that Selznick's stories so often reference movie lore and history. The life and exuberantly eccentric work of silent movie pioneer Georges Melies was the inspiration for the book that became Hugo.

The silent movie era also figures in this plot: the industry facing the advent of sound film provides a counterpoint to the story of two deaf children on separate quests coping with a hearing world.

Cabinet of Curiosities: Selznick version

Oakes Fegley and the newcomer Millicent Simmonds (a wonderful young deaf actress making her feature debut) play the kids in search of family, love, and tolerance, whose stories finally converge in New York City.

The Museum of Natural History figures prominently in both stories. But the most interesting set, a 19th Century Cabinet of Curiosities preserved at the museum, is underused.

It's gorgeously rendered in an old book that Ben finds (an illustration straight out of Selznick's novel), but the big reveal of how it relates to the modern story lacks, well, a sense of wonder — and then we never see it again.

Still, Haynes rocks the scenes set in 1927, shooting in black-and-white, without dialogue (just as Simmonds' character perceives the world), like a silent movie.

But this movie is far from silent, percolating along with a marvelously inventive, often percussive score by Carter Burwell that informs and reflects the action in every frame.

Cabinet of Curiosities onscreen: Let's spend more time here!
In honor of the non-hearing community that inspires it, Wonderstruck features open-caption subtitles throughout.

It's a thoughtful touch for a lyrical movie whose message of family, friendship, and tolerance strikes a particular chord these days.
(Read more in this week's Good Times)

Monday, November 13, 2017

SUCH A DEAL


Oh, and did I happen to mention that Beast: A Tale of Love and Revenge is (finally!) available again at a decent pre-order discount on Amazon?

Take a look!

Sunday, November 12, 2017

PRE-HOLIDAY CHEER

Who's ready for a little pre-holiday spirit?

If your answer was a resounding "Gah!" stop reading right now. Otherwise, stick around.

Okay, full disclosure: I'm kind of a Charles Dickens geek.

His unparalleled view of Victorian-era England (London, especially) — upstairs and downstairs, comic and tragic, darkness and light, good, bad, ugly, and everything in between — is endlessly fascinating to me. I eat it up like a Christmas pudding.

So imagine my delight when this trailer appeared before the feature over at the Nick a couple of days ago. Coming this Thanksgiving weekend: The Man Who Invented Christmas. It stars Dan Stevens as you-know-who, caught in the act of creating one of his most beloved works, A Christmas Carol.

Whenever I'm asked to name my favorite book of all time, this is it. It's astonishing at how polished this simple-seeming tale is: it obeys the so-called "classical unities" of time, place, and action, occurring in the space of a single night, and yet it encompasses one man's entire lifetime, while painting an indelible portrait of an age and culture at its most human, and inhumane extremes.

All wrapped up in an eerie Gothic ghost story.

Really, it's a master class in how to write fiction!

As the screen went dark on the Dickens trailer, Art Boy whispered to me, "I know you're going to want to see that one!" And how. I wanted to stay sitting right there for the next two weeks until the movie itself came onscreen. He practically had to chisel me out of the seat!

This movie might well be silly. It might be trash. But my appetite is inexhaustible! Opening day is November 22, Thanksgiving Eve, at the Nick. We'll see you there!

Monday, November 6, 2017

NORSING AROUND

Gods just wanna have fun in entertaining Thor: Ragnarok

Okay, so it's less about the gods of classical Norse Mythology than the Marvel Comics pantheon, but only a real killjoy would fail to get a kick out of this third installment of the Thor series, Thor: Ragnarok.

As Norse geeks know, Ragnarok is like Armageddon — the long-prophesied doom of Asgard, where the Norse gods live.

Yes, the destruction of the world is serious stuff, but what's most engaging about this episode is the way Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston continue to have way too much fun developing the prickly relationship between heroic Thor, God of Thunder, and sly, acerbic half-brother Loki, the Trickster God.


(Established with such brio in the last installment, Thor: The Dark World, my Guilty Pleasure of 2013.)

Hemsworth, Hiddleston: Wait, who's the straight man here?
 But — surprise! This time Hemsworth gets most of the laughs, beginning with the opening prologue, where, wrapped in chains and caged, he cheerily explains The Story So Far, to clue in both the viewer and the gigantic fire demon that thinks it's about to destroy him.

Who knew Thor could be funny?

It's all directed with a surprisingly droll, light touch by New Zealander Taika Waititi, who give his adroit cast plenty of room to maneuever.

Goldblum: priceless
Jeff Goldblum brings his priceless, eccentric delivery to the role of the Grandmaster, presiding over a gladiatorial combat arena in some distant world or other.

(In the Thor universe, gods and mortals rocket around the galaxies at will.)

That's Cate Blanchett in a black Vampyra wig as Hela, Goddess of Death (a previously undocumented lost daughter of Odin), whose evil schemes to conquer Asgard and unleash Ragnarok set everything off.

New to the series, Tessa Thompson struts around with brio as the last survivor of the Valkyrie sisterhood, nursing a grudge against Hela.

The ever-wonderful Idris Elba has more to do this time as Heimdall, keeper of the portal of Asgard, who becomes a leader of the resistance after Hela takes over.

Thompson: Happy Hulk Day
And Mark Ruffalo proves himself the best screen Hulk ever in the comic timidity he brings to brainy science nerd Bruce Banner before hulking out into his colossal alter-ego.

(He's also extra poignant in his CGI Hulk suit, when he's not bashing people about.) It's also pretty funny when spectators take to the streets in green masks to celebrate Hulk Day, in honor of their favorite combatant.

Benedict Cumberbatch pops up for one pretty cool scene as Dr. Strange. (I told you, these characters jet all over the place.)

And keep your eyes peeled for a cameo by Matt Damon playing an actor playing the part of Loki in a recreation of the last scene of the last Thor movie onstage in Asgard.

But don't worry, fanboys, there's a whole lot of action, too, dire peril, shifty alliances, and ginormous special effects — including gladiatorial combat between Thor and the Hulk.

Of course, there's also another yawner of an aerial dogfight above Asgard. (Don't even ask.)

(And in one disturbing scene, a character goes on a two-fisted rampage, firing two automatic assault rifles into a crowd of Hela's army. Sure, his targets are inhuman demons with green glowing eyes, but it still looks like a serial killer-empowering moment.)

Thor also loses his mighty magic hammer in this one. (Although he mostly retains a tactical advantage, since he is, you know, a god.) More traumatizing to fangirls is the scene when he's shorn of his long blond locks. Loki too gets a new do, less limp and Snape-like, with a little bounce around the edges.

Hulk, Thor, Valkyrie and Loki: Let's get the band back together!
Oh, and that Ragnarok thing? Fear not — the post-credit teaser suggests this franchise, like the gods, is immortal.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

ONE STEP CLOSER!

OMG!

My beloved Beast is in the Candlewick catalogue!

Imagine my delight today to open my mailbox and find the Spring-Summer catalogue 2018 from my new publisher, Candlewick.

Couldn't resist posting my Beast page, in all its gorgeouness!

Here's a screen-shot of the page from the online catalogue, including just enough of the plot outline to give you a little tease. Hope you're intrigued!

At long last, Beast is finally heading toward a bookstore near you! 

(Not right away, of course; pub date is still July 10, 2018.)

But he's on his way!

Sunday, October 22, 2017

WAR and POOH

Trauma begets kidlit classic in lovely Goodbye Christopher Robin

A few weeks ago, I was ranting about biographical movies that commit a sin of admission —unable to be selective about the facts of a person's real life, they let the point of the movie drown in too many details.

But, in telling a story about A. A. Milne, author of the beloved Winnie the Pooh children's books, director Simon Curtis gets it right.

He chooses one aspect of Milne's life and career to focus on, and follows through to its conclusion. A larger picture of Milne and his era emerges along the way, but it never distracts from the emotional core of Curtis' very poignant film.

Curtis has impressive credentials for translating real-life stories to film (My Week With Marilyn; Woman In Gold). Working from a thoughtful script by veteran Frank Cottrell Boyce and Simon Vaughan, Curtis crafts a gentle-spirited movie around a serious theme: how Milne's harrowing experiences in the First World War drove him to create the healing fantasy of Winnie the Pooh, inspired by his little son and his toy animals. Serious too is the minor theme: the effect of worldwide fame on a 6-year-old boy.

Gleeson, Tilston, and furry friends: imagination heals
In Jazz Age London, Alan Milne (Domhnall Gleeson) is a writer of frothy stage comedies who's finding it hard to adjust to his old life after a tour of duty in the trenches of France. He keeps having devastating flashbacks to the battlefield — whenever a champagne cork pops, for instance, or a car backfires.

After enduring the birth of their son, Christopher Robin, is social-butterfly wife, Daphne (Margot Robbie), is eager to resume their usual round of parties and opening nights.

But Alan finds London too disturbing, and shocks his wife by moving the family, along with Olive (the always endearing Kelly Macdonald), the young nanny who has raised the boy, to a country house in Sussex, where he hopes to start writing again.

The real-life Milne, Christopher Robin, and Pooh Bear
When Alan is left alone for a few days with 5-year-old Christopher, whom everyone calls Billy (the disarmingly dimpled Will Tilston), wandering the benign, sunlit wood on their property, the two begin to bond.

Although he longs to produce a work that will convince people to abolish war, as they once abolished slavery, Alan gets drawn into the imaginative world Billy creates for his stuffed animals, which jump-starts Alan's own creativity. Winnie the Pooh, Tigger, Eeyore, and Piglet are born.

These lovely scenes between Tilston and Gleeson (reserved at first, then playfully loosening up) are the heart of the movie. The publication and immediate global mania for the Pooh books and poems go by in a fleet montage. (Director Curtis is smart enough to realize that's the part of the story we already know.)

But their father-son relationship is damaged. It's heartbreaking that they can never again regain that golden time when the stories were just for the two of them, before the whole world was watching. (Read more)






How big a global sensation was Winnie the Pooh? Winnie ille Pu was a Latin translation my parents gave me as a high school freshman studying Latin in the '60s — almost 50 years after Milne's book was published. The Tao of Pooh came out in 1982. Needless to say, Pooh, in his original and various spinoff versions, is still in print!

Saturday, October 21, 2017

ORDER UP II

Hey kids!

Guess what? Beast: A Tale of Love and Revenge is available for pre-order from Barnes & Noble as we speak! AND at an insane pre-release discount! (And, yes, that's for the hardcover first edition!)

Check it out!

True, the book will not actually be released until July 10, 2018. But this is one way to be the first kid on your block to get your paws on it on Day One. Okay, it may not be faster than a speeding kindle on release day, but the tactile pleasures of a real ink-and-paper book are their own reward.

Beast is also  now available (again) for pre-order on Amazon, but at the retail price. I expect they will soon offer a pre-order discount as well — but plucky B&N had SO beat them to the punch!

Thursday, October 19, 2017

THE TAO OF THE SPLAT

So, what separates a big, red, fresh tomato from a squashed green splat over at Rotten Tomatoes?

Now that I'm an officially Tomatometer-approved RT critic myself, I am gaining some insight.

I recently got an email from an RT editor, after the site had been posting my reviews for a few weeks. He thanked me for joining the team, but he had a question about one of my recent reviews.

I'd given the movie 2 1/2 stars out of 4 (according to my official Jensen-o-meter, long in use on the Good Times website). He said the staff had read that as "slightly negative," but they wanted to check with me before assigning a (dreaded) splat to my review of the movie.

I told him 2 1/2 stars was right, smack in the middle: the movie had merits, which I cited, but the narrative drawbacks — for me — slightly outweighed them. On the other hand, it wasn't a terrible movie. So I asked, can we give it, like, half a tomato?

But there is no grey area at Rotten Tomatoes, no ambiguity. It's either a "fresh," or a splat.

Still, I was glad the editor invited me to weigh in, in the interest of fairness. Re-reading my review, I had to admit it read as slightly negative, so I had to stand by my opinion: I authorized the splat.

And while I regret that the nuance of critical thinking might get lost in a strictly pass-fail system, readers are always encouraged to click the reviewer's link next to the Tomatometer icon the get the whole story.


(On the other hand, some reviews are completely unambiguous! The movie in question here is the disaster that was Pan.)

Friday, October 13, 2017

9 - AND COUNTING

The countdown continues!


In 9 months, my Beast will be born! Yes, Beast: A Tale of Love and Revenge hits bookstores on July 10, 2019.


In the meantime, feast your eyes on my Beast of the Month in this gorgeous illustration of Beauty and the Beast by contemporary artist Toshiaki Kato.


Kato does not apparently have a website of his own, but you can see more of his beauteous illustrations here.


His work is featured in an item called Genshin/Japanese Anime Art Book, which is mostly available on eBay. I have no other information about him.

But Holy Moly, what a cool image!

Thursday, October 12, 2017

BEING HUMAN

Life still mysterious is thoughtful sequel Blade Runner 2049

You don't need an encyclopedic knowledge of the original to enjoy this 30-years-later sequel to Ridley Scott's groundbreaking sci-fi epic.

The new movie tells its own story, with a (mostly) new cast of characters, although the main plot thrust was launched in the original.

But there's enough context to make sense to latecomers, while longtime fans will have lots of new fodder for speculation in how it all plays out.

Incoming director Denis Villeneuve (in close collaboration with exec-producer Scott), sticks to the original theme of the first film and the Philip K. Dick story that inspired it: an existential question of the meaning of life when a breed of super-strong, machine-made androids, called "replicants," have been created to serve the master race of humans.

Ir-replicantable: Rutger Hauer in the original
The movie's two-hours and 43-minutes allow plenty of time to brood over the issue of what constitutes "real" life, and it's worth pondering. Yet, respect for the miracle of life itself, expressed with such aching eloquence in the original film, never feels quite as profound here.

We never feel that urgent sense of loss the renegade replicants felt in the first film, battling for their sense of human identity in the face of extinction.

Still, the movie resonates in its own way as its central mystery evolves — especially when LAPD blade runner Ryan Gosling unearths startling evidence that a replicant has given birth.

And it's great to see Harrison Ford revisiting one of his best signature roles. His testy, cynical ex-blade runner, Deckard, plays well against Gosling's smooth aplomb as they become unexpected allies in pursuit of the truth.
(Read more)

Sunday, October 8, 2017

DIG IT

Beloved Santa Cruz artist Beth Gripenstraw's creative energy is so boundless, and her wacky muse so insistent, it's not enough for her to produce her gorgeous, hand-painted ceramic plates, bowls, cups, serving platters, jars, cups and earrings.

She also has to create an entire thematic environment in which to show them off at her Open Studio every year. The theme might be an African safari, or an underwater adventure a la 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

One year, it was my personal favorite, Paris in the 1920s. She even served absinthe!  

This year, her extravagant set-up is an archeological dig in the desert. The front door is transformed into a recently opened Egyptian tomb, guarded by a pair of carved 'stone" big-cat sentinels.

The foyer inside is littered with pots — some strewn about, some reduced to shards, but others vibrantly painted and gloriously intact!

Life-sized camels lounge about the walkway leading to the site, er, studio. And inside — room after room of fabulous pottery, often displayed on giant packing crates, ready to be shipped off to museums worldwide.

A trio of Bedouin women, in elaborate costumes and headdresses keep watch in the dining room display.

Thematic designs this year include dragonflies and scarab beetles, reflecting the artist's background in botanical illustration. These are grouped alongside her ever-popular floral, fish, and animal designs.

For refreshment, there are camel-shaped cookies! (As you can see, below, I ate most of mine before I remembered to photograph it!) For the more adventurous, munch on freeze-dried insects, washed down with a Camel's Milk cocktail.

Every Open Studio is an event at Beth's place! Santa Cruz is lucky to have her.

Souvenirs from the site: security pass, camel shard, and half a cookie!

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

HIGHER GROUND

Intriguing fantasia on King's last hours in SCAT production The Mountaintop

We all know how the story ends. Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. crusader of the civil rights movement, tireless advocate for social justice and racial equality through peaceful protest, inspiration to millions, was shot to death outside his motel room in Memphis, Tennessee, on April 4, 1968.

Those are the facts. But what may or may not have occurred on the night of April 3, Dr. King's last night on earth, is a matter of pure conjecture. That's the challenge taken up in The Mountaintop, the award-winning 2009 drama from Memphis-born playwright Katori Hall receiving its local premiere in an intriguing new Santa Cruz Actors' Theatre production at Center Stage.

A Columbia grad who received her MFA from Harvard, then graduated from the playwriting program at Julliard, Hall has the audacity to imagine King's final hours as a dialogue between the road-weary civil rights leader and a pretty young motel maid on her first day on the job.

Hall surprises the audience with a portrait of King that dares to be both laudatory and iconoclastic, viewing him as more human than saint, while celebrating his profound effect on the fight for freedom and justice for which he finally gave his life.

Wills and Cruse: sassy and subversive

The SCAT production, well-directed by local stage veteran Erik Gandolfi, begins with the civil rights leader returning to his motel room after delivering a speech to the striking sanitation workers he's come to town to support. King (played with energetic presence by Avondina Wills), eager to get to work on the next speech he's writing, has sent his roommate, Ralph Abernathy, out to the corner store to buy a pack of the Pall Malls he's trying to quit smoking.

When he calls room service for a cup of coffee, it's delivered by a starstruck young maid called Camae (sassy and ultimately commanding Sarah Cruse). As luck would have it, she has a couple of Pall Malls in her pocket; he persuades her to have a smoke with him, and they bring out the flirt in each other — even though she has to keep apologizing for swearing in front of a preacher whenever her salty street vocabulary slips out.

The stage seems to be set for debate along gender, class, and political lines. And for awhile, that's how it goes, especially when they discuss the violence of the Black Panthers vs. King's allegiance to peaceful protest. But there's a seismic shift when Camae's true nature and her purpose are suddenly revealed. It's too good a plot twist to give away here, but it gives Hall's play its slyly subversive edge as it ramps up toward its moving conclusion.
(Read more)

Monday, October 2, 2017

NET WORTH

King-Riggs tennis match scores in entertaining Battle of the Sexes

At 29, Billie Jean King was the top-ranked woman tennis player in the world, making waves on the pro circuit by demanding promoters offer women players the same prize money they offered male players.

Bobby Riggs was a 55-year-old former tennis champ, and shameless self-promoting media hustler. When he challenged her to a duel on the tennis court in 1973, the whole world was literally watching.

It was billed as the "Battle of the Sexes," a symbolic milestone in the then-burgeoning women's movement.

And now their match-up comes to the big screen in this thoughtful and entertaining movie about gender, identity, politics, and celebrity at a pivotal cultural moment in American history, written by Simon Beaufoy (Slumdog Millionaire), and directed by Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton (Little Miss Sunshine).

The real Bobby and Billie Jean. Guess who had the muscle?
Emma Stone is poised and terrific as Billie Jean, who starts her own tour with eight other female champions when a smug promoter refuses to pay the women players as much as their male counterparts.

(The other women players are so excited to get their own tour, they each sign on for one dollar.)

The publicity generated by the tour attracts gadfly Bobby (Steve Carell), who, since his heyday in the late 1940s and '50s, has been living off high-profile exhibition matches — and the inherited income of his wealthy wife.

Billie Jean rejects Bobby's first offer. Long-married to her college sweetheart, she's too busy coping with a her sudden, intense attraction to Marilyn Barnett (Andrea Riseborough), here portrayed as a hairdresser who comes on tour with the female pros.

Stone and Carell: match point
But when Bobby starts talking a lot of trash about the male being "the superior animal," Billie Jean instructs her manager-husband, "Call the bozo. Tell him it's on."

Carell plays Bobby with gusto, in all his gross excess, and yet there's unexpected charm in his brash exuberance, vowing to "put the show back in chauvinism!"

A vintage soundtrack keeps the action bubbling along, and clothes and hairstyles replicate the era perfectly.

But despite the hi-jinks, the subject of gender inequality (let alone embracing one's sexual orientation) remains serious throughout — and as pertinent now as ever.
(Read more)

Friday, September 22, 2017

SOMETHING ROTTEN

Look, Ma, I'm on Rotten Tomatoes!

I guess if you do something long enough, somebody is bound to notice.

The busy elves over at RT have uploaded 94(!) of my Good Times reviews from the last couple of years onto the site.

I'm right up there with the big kids from the Chicago Sun Times and New York Magazine (among many others).

I even get my own page, listing all my reviews, with links to the movie pages in question!

This is kind of a cool deal. Color me stoked!

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

ANTICIPATION

Hey, film fans!

Remember that upcoming Guillermo del Toro movie, The Shape Of Water, I was fangirling all over a few posts back? No, I haven't seen it — it comes out December 8 — but the gender-bent Little Mermaid meets The Creature From the Black Lagoon, meets Beauty and the Beast vibe has me drooling in anticipation!

Maestro del Toro calls it a Cold War Fairy Tale!

Well, a new, expanded trailer has just been released. And, naturally, since we're all buds, I thought I'd share it with you.

And speaking of breathless anticipation, what's up with Game of Thrones?

Season 7 ended at the end of August.

But Season 8 — the FINAL SEASON! — isn't scheduled to be broadcast until (gah!) 2019!

Feeling blue? Who isn't?

But cheer up with this reel of on-set Game of Thrones bloopers!

You're welcome!

Friday, September 8, 2017

CERTIFIED FRESH

And to top off a kind of amazing week, I was just invited to join the roster of "Tomatometer-approved" film critics over at Rotten Tomatoes!

This is a big thrill for me. I've loved this site forever!

It's always fun for me, when I've finished writing my own review, to cruise over to RT and see what other critics are saying. Sometimes, my opinion agrees with the majority, but often not.

(Seriously, 92% Fresh for A Ghost Story? What movie did these people see?)

I'm told it may take a couple of weeks for them to start adding my reviews to the site. I'll let you know when I see one!

Thursday, September 7, 2017

IT'S A BOOK!

And the hits keep coming!

So excited get my Advance Reading Copies (ARCs) for BEAST!
It's a book!

Or book-like, anyway. The actual print edition of Beast: A Tale of Love and Revenge, will be in hardcover, due July 10, 2018.

My lovely publicist at Candlewick Press is preparing a list of book-bloggers to send them to.

Let me know of you're interested!

Can't wait to share my Beast with the world!

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

COVER REVEAL!

Hey, folks!

For a while now, the artisan elves over at Candlewick Press have been hard at work on the cover art for Beast: A Tale of Love and Revenge.

And now, at last, I get to share it with you!

Et, voila!

My story takes place in the French countryside, at the dawn of the 17th Century, more than 100 years before the tale we recognize now as Beauty and the Beast was written down in book form (first by Madame de Villeneuve in 1740, then retold by Madame de Beaumont in 1756).

My narrative imagines what the real story might have been behind the familiar fairy tale we all think we know. And the Gothic touches in this image evoke the dark, romantic mood of my story.

I've been extraordinarily lucky in all my cover designs. Just look at those three, cool Alias Hook covers over there to your right:  The US edition from Thomas Dunne Books, the audiobook from Blackstone, and the original UK edition from Snowbooks, a symphony in gold foil-on-black.

This beauteous Beast cover carries on that tradition!

I couldn't be more thrilled! What do you think?

Sunday, August 27, 2017

BOY CRAZY

What a nice surprise this movie is!

Everything about the ad campaign and the preview trailers for The Only Living Boy In New York seems to be selling it as a sort of Millennial version of The Graduate — a young man at loose ends, on the threshold of his life, enters into a messy relationship with a seductive older woman connected to the family through his father. (In this case, his father's mistress.)


The song that gives the movie its title, vintage Simon and Garfunkel, also references the ambience of the classic Mike Nichols movie. But it turns out there's a perfectly valid reason for using this song, beyond a random attempt to identify this movie with its famous predecessor.

This smart, engaging film, written by Allan Loeb and skillfully directed by Marc Webb (500 Days of Summer), tells its own story, from a completely fresh perspective. The story intrigues, and there's a lot of satisfaction in the way everything eventually falls into place.

Best of all is a big, plummy role for Jeff Bridges, as sort of an irascible old Yoda, mentoring the young hero, Thomas (played by Callum Turner with a wry, slightly gauche appeal), in the school of life.
Turner and Bridges: Full-on Yoda mode

Bridges' voice narrates much of this story. It's a little jarring at first, that this character, observing the action from the outside, presumes to tell us what Thomas and other characters are thinking and feeling. But there's a turning point later on when it all suddenly makes sense.

Pierce Brosnan is Thomas' abrupt, imperious father, a big cheese at a NYC publishing house, with Cynthia Nixon is his "fragile" wife.

Kate Beckinsale is the glamorous mistress. And vivacious Kiersey Clemons plays the girl of Thomas' dreams — until things take an unexpected turn.

You may guess part of the mysterious history linking these characters before all is revealed, but that shouldn't interfere with the pleasure of watching it play out. And the percolating rhythms of city life provide an expressive counterpoint to this appealing tale.

(Read more in this week's Good Times.)

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

BEASTITUDE

Beast of the Month from Binettte Schroeder
I officially "met" (via email) my new publicist from Candlewick Press today. It will be her job to shepherd me through the labyrinth of PR duties as my Beast (Beast: A Tale of Love and Revenge, for those of you who came in late) proudly strides toward publication!

What this means is that Beast is on track for his new pub date, July 10, 2018. Yay!

To celebrate, I'm reviving my Beast of the Month countdown. Yes, it's another 12 months between now and next July.

But to help pass the time, I'll be sharing some of my favorite versions of Beast, from Beauty and the Beast, as imagined by book illustrators and designers both vintage and modern.

They're not meant to resemble the Beast in my book, but I'm always looking for a Beast with a certain attitude (Beastitude?) that separates him from the pack. And they get extra points on my personal Beast-o-meter if they don't conform to the Disney standard.

Shroeder's Beauty: shock at first sight
Don't get me wrong: I loved Disney's original cartoon Beast as much as any other fangirl. But the tale itself is almost 300 years old (and that's just from the earliest written-down versions), and there have been hundreds of offbeat and highly original interpretations over time. And whenever I find a really cool one, I'll post it here!

Case in point: This fabulous 1986 Beauty and the Beast storybook illustrated by German artist Binette Schroeder!

Look at this majestic Beast (above)! I like the combination of leopard-spotted limbs and wolfish head. From the softness of the lines I'm pretty sure the medium is pastels, rendered by a master.

(Look at Beast's shadow gliding across the pillar behind him.)

And I love how the trees are growing through the window and into the room!

The image from the facing page shows Beauty having her first magical meal at the castle. I originally loved the idea that that the meal was preparing itself for her, the knife in mid-air, but now I see that she's just let go of the knife in her shock at seeing Beast for the first time.

Gorgeous gargoyle: ornaments fit for a Beast!
Either way, it's a very atmospheric image. Look at the misty moon outside, the leopard legs on the table, and that eerie gargoyle head on top of the arch of the window!

Next, we see Beauty running back to Beast's castle after dreaming that Beast is dying without her.

Don't you just love that lupine gargoyle bannister ornament with the delicate butterfly wings?

And at last, the grand finale, with Beauty rushing back to save Beast from dying of unrequited love for her — just before she confesses her love, and he rises again in the form of the handsome prince (below).


Just look at the faces in the shrubs, and the imposing silhouette of the castle in the moonlight.


Of course, this isn't exactly the way the story plays out in my book. Or, at least, it's not where my story ends. Beast gets a different happily-ever-after in my story.

Stay tuned!

(See more of Binette Schroeder's Beauty and the Beast illustrations!)

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

MEME-WORTHY

Captain James Hook continues to win over fans across the blogosphere!

Imagine my delight to stumble upon this lovely review of Alias Hook, posted in May of last year by Larkin, over at Wonderfilled Reads.

She enjoyed it so much, she created this meme from a quote from my book!

Pretty cool. huh?

This is James Hook's epiphany, toward the end of the story, when he realizes that neither the bloodthirsty boys, nor the magical forces of the Neverland have any more power to terrify or control him.

He, himself, has finally gown up.

Big thanks to Larkin for finding my book meme-worthy!

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

SOMETHING WICKED

In no way is the intense historical drama Lady Macbeth a romance. Sure, it's set in the Victorian era of corsets and crinolines, with a plot that hinges on female suppression, sexual awakening, forbidden passion, and revenge.

But there's nothing remotely romantic about this vividly stark tale about a woman so completely warped by a monstrous society that she becomes a monster herself.

The story, based on the 1865 novel, Lady Macbeth of Mtsesnk, by Russian author Nikolai Leskov, is adapted for the screen by Alice Birch for director William Oldroyd; they retain the mid-Victorian setting, but relocate the action to the forbidding, windswept moors of northern England.

This turns out to be an appropriately rough-and-tumble landscape against which the filmmakers present an astonishingly poised, refined, and chilling gemstone of a performance by 20-year-old Florence Pugh in the central role. Pugh is in almost every scene — the story proceeds form her viewpoint — and she'll have you biting your nails in dread as her character evolves into something wicked, indeed.


Florence Pugh (R) as Katherine: caged
We know nothing about young Katherine (Pugh) as the story begins on her wedding night. It turns out she has been "bought" for her sour, taciturn, middle-aged new husband Alexander (Paul Hilton) by his stern, elderly, Bible-spouting grotesque of a father, Boris (Christopher Fairbank), who lives with the couple in the forbidding stone fortress of their house.

With servants to run the household, Katherine is expected to sit primly in the parlor all day, every day, until she fulfills her purpose of producing an heir.

When the men are called away from home, she grasps at rebellion with an unexpected lover. But the movie is never about anything so prosaic as a woman fighting for the man she loves. Instead, she's fighting a suffocating social order in which she has no voice, no power, and no recourse. The grim irony is how horribly she loses herself in her desperation to claim her selfhood.

A conspiracy of lies and deceit, cover-ups, betrayal, and murder most gruesome— often extremely difficult to watch —  are all involved. This is not a movie to take to your heart, but as a psychological thriller, it's both grueling and profound.

(Read more in this week's Good Times)

Monday, August 7, 2017

LOVE, ITALIAN STYLE

Visual wit shines in SCS' delightful 'Two Gentlemen of Verona'

A priest and his beaming altar boy, a winged mime on roller skates, a flock of nuns, and a bunch of guys in towels, walk onto a stage. No, it's not an old joke. It's the beginning of a sprightly, visually splendid new production of Shakespeare's early comedy, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, the third installment of Santa Cruz Shakespeare's 2017 summer season.    

The play's not necessarily the thing in this show. One of Shakespeare's earliest works, it's a romantic comedy about a youth, Proteus (Brian Smolin, always fun to watch), all too willing to betray his best friend, Valentine (an earnest Rowan Vickers), and forsake the woman he himself loves so he can woo the woman his friend has fallen in love with.

Adam Schroeder, Rowan Vickers: love is clueless
Grace Rao makes a plucky ingenue of Julia, the girl Proteus leaves behind, who dresses a a boy and follows the men to the court of Milan. Silvia (a wily, beauteous Tristan Cunningham) is the duke's daughter both men fall for, although she and Valentine have already pledged their love in secret.

There's a lot of funny comedy between these four characters and their servants, but the trick is to make this play appealing despite its dubious plotline.

This is where director Art Manke's ingenious production excels. Its many delights come from the visual wit of his staging on Annie Smart's core set of stone archways and catwalks (co-designed for this show with Chrissy Curl), in cahoots with B. Modern's absolutely fabulous, mid-century, Euro-chic costumes.

What's fun is the way Manke puts it all together. He envisions life at court as one lavish cocktail party, where the glitterati swill drinks and flourish cigarettes, while an army paparazzi snap their every move.


Brian Smolin (foreground), Tristan Cunninghan (3rd from left) & co: symphony in black and white
 Modern's extraordinary black, white, grey and silver costume palette is a symphony of stripes, checks, solids, and plaids, with an occasional striking zebra-print thrown in. Think Mad Men and Breakfast At Tiffany's crossed with the witty surrealism of a Federico Fellini movie (cited by Manke as his inspiration).

Gallagher and friend: Felliniesque
Valentine's servant, the aptly-named Speed, sports those wings and skates, and Adam Schroeder is terrific in the role, especially trying to explain to his clueless master the code by which Silvia is declaring her love for him.

His counterpart, Launce, servant to Proteus, is a female here, and Patty Gallagher plays her with plenty of slapstick, sad-clown brio. In her bowler hat and cane, she recalls the poignant heroine of Fellini's Juliet of the Spirits.

Gallagher also has the poise and charm to share the stage with a mellow black dog called Crab, who steals every scene he's in.

The nuns and priest on the margins suggest the idea of faith, in contrast to the faithlessness Proteus shows to, well, just about everybody.

That everyone so easily forgives Proteus is the mark of a dramatist not yet in full control of his art, but Manke, Modern, and company are in full control of this delicious production.

(Read more in this week's Good Times)