A Late review of Ragnarok: Uncle Thor’s Goofy House of Wacky Fun!

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Thor: Ragnarok has been out for weeks and I am only just NOW going to talk about it?! Yep, I saw it this weekend – I very rarely go see a movie on its opening weekend, remember? I mention that in almost all my movie reviews…

I was worried when I read the initial stories about this third Thor movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The press described it as a Hope & Crosby-esque Road Movie with Hulk and Thor. As the premier weekend arrived, the movie’s humor was the focus.

I was leery. Humor has its place in the Marvel Universe (cinematic or otherwise): Spider-Man revels in it. Robert Downey Jr imbues his personality into the Iron Man franchise. Guardians of the Galaxy had lots of laugh-out-loud-moments. Two words: Deadpool. Okay, that’s only one word.

The Thor franchise is the weakest of all the MCU films, with the exception of the two Hulk movies. Perhaps the powers-that-be thought to shake up their weakest link. The more successful movies are peppered with humor (Guardians, Deadpool), perhaps piling on the snark can revive this branch of the franchise and give it a blockbuster that will stand with the first Iron Man, the first Captain America and the first Avengers movie.

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Humor has its place. Unfortunately, not in Thor; at least not this kind of humor.

It is mostly man-child dialogue enjoyed mostly by men-children. Goofy Wacky Fun. There is some physical/slapstick moments in the movie (as in the scene with Doctor Strange), but it is appropriate (it fits the scene) and does not smack of Stoogania…

(Oh, to have seen more of Benedict Cumberbatch and Tom Hiddleston together. Only one long shot of the two splendid actors together. Someone needs to develop a vehicle for the two actors. Please!)

Anyway, let’s get back to more Goofy Wacky Fun …

Chris Hemsworth may be excellent in comedic roles … in the future it may be what he is best known for …

But Thor is not a comedic role.   Having other characters around him being the focus of humor, perhaps, may have worked better. But not Thor. He doesn’t need to be funny – Jack Benny and Bob Newhart made their careers allowing others around them to be funny. Thor could be serious – and more in character – and still have scenes with many laughs.

Remember the first two Thor movies had their comic relief with Darcy Lewis and Dr. Erik Selvig. So it CAN be done. I only wish in the prior movies it were done better.

Hiddleston’s Loki is ideal for this kind of humor – the character has shown it since his inception.

But not Thor. Seeing him shout “Oh my god” or “What the hell” or whine about his hair in the best frat-boy manner is out of character and takes us out of the immersion; reminding us we are watching a movie. A movie filled with Goofy Wacky Fun (hereinafter “GWF” for brevity’s sake).

And it seemed everyone had to have their day in the snarky sun, whether it fit the character or not.

Not even Cate Blanchette as Hela the Goddess of Death was immune. Her GWF (snarky comments) aimed at Karl Urban’s Executioner were also out of character.

Even Anthony Hopkins gets in the act – although only when he is Loki in disguise – otherwise his character is the typical (read: unknowable and unpredictable) All-Father.

It worked better with Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner – the befuddled scientist lost inside the Hulk for over two years. Banner is normally played as the pitiable victim or the super-scientist. The whiny wise-cracker here fit, considering his situation.

However, the dialogue between Hulk and Thor is mostly infantile posturing. Eight-year-olds on a playground. GWF.

The eye-rollingly bad acting of Jeff Goldblum as the secondary bad guy the Grandmaster is a waste of celluloid, but fits in perfectly with Director’s Taika Waititi’s vision of GWF.

While we are on this subject, the ending clip after the credits is not worth the wait.  The middle clip after the cast credits apparently sets up Thor’s appearance in Infinity War.

The only character immune from GWF Syndrome was Heimdall, excellently and nobly played again by Idris Elba.

In sum, the GWF turned Thor into Downey’s Iron Man or Deadpool. We don’t need another snarky quipster.

It was humor at the expense of characterization and continuity; and that’s not worth the cost.

Plus, much of it wasn’t all that funny…

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But I LIKED the movie! The good points vastly out-weigh the bad:

Tessa Thompson shines as Valkyrie. She will make a fine addition to the Marvel Universe – and note that except for Nighthawk we have most of the late-1970s Defenders in this movie!

The battle scenes are inspiring, helped by Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” as a soundtrack – a canny but good choice with its lyrics based on Norse and Tolkien (itself the son-of-Norse) mythology.  (as with Wonder Woman‘s No-Man’s Land battle, the initial battle with Surtur is more effective and exciting than the big battle in the conclusion). Obvious, but it works. By the second airing, though, the song loses some of its thunder.  Pun intended.

Cate Blanchette’s Hela was as evil as she was incredibly sexy!

And wasn’t it fun watching her and Karl Urban together? Two Lord of the Rings vets together again for the very first time…

Heroes acted heroically.  Characters redeem themselves and we cheer.  Characters and situations irrevocably change and we mourn. That’s all I can say without spoilers.

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Some basic questions:

Why was the identity of the “Champion” so coyly secretive when the audience knew exactly who it was since the first preview aired?

Will we ever see Asgard (or at least Asgardians) again? It is hinted that after Infinity War II our original superheroes and the actors portraying them will be gone. Will Valkyrie take over Thor’s role in future films?

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Another good-but-not-great Thor movie. A pity … the god of thunder still deserves better.

 

Copyright 2017 Michael Curry

National Adoption Awareness Month spotlight on … Jerry Lewis!

Last year I did a series on the three biggest comedians of the 20th century – Bob Hope, Jack Benny and George Burns – who adopted all their children.

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But they weren’t the only legendary comedians who adopted. Jerry Lewis did, too.

For those who need a brief bio of Jerry Lewis … from Wikipedia:

Jerry Lewis (born either Jerome Levitch or Joseph Levitch; March 16, 1926 – August 20, 2017) was an American comedian, actor, singer, producer, director, screenwriter and humanitarian. He was known for his slapstick humor in film, television, stage and radio. From 1946 to 1956, he and Dean Martin were partners as the hit popular comedy duo of Martin and Lewis. After that, he became a star in motion pictures, nightclubs, television shows, concerts, album recordings and musicals.

Lewis served as national chairman of the Muscular Dystrophy Association and hosted the live Labor Day weekend broadcast of the Jerry Lewis MDA Telethon for 45 years. He received several awards for lifetime achievement from the American Comedy Awards, Los Angeles Film Critics Association, Venice Film Festival and Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences He was also honored with two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

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His only daughter was adopted during his marriage to SanDee Pitnick (his second marriage): Danielle Sara Lewis (born March 24, 1992.

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The story of Jerry’s adopted daughter has taken a controversial turn since his death:

From People Magazine:

“According to his Last Will and Testament, provided to PEOPLE by The Blast, the funnyman emphatically cut out all six children he had with his first wife Patti Palmer — meaning they will inherent nothing.

“I have intentionally excluded Gary Lewis, Ronald Lewis, Anthony Joseph Lewis, Christopher Joseph Lewis, Scott Anthony Lewis, and Joseph Christopher Lewis and their descendants as beneficiaries of my estate, it being my intention that they shall receive no benefits hereunder,” the will, written in 2012, states.

“Lewis’s potentially vast estate (estimated at 50 million dollars) will be passed to his widow, SanDee Pitnick. Second in line to inherit his fortune, should something happen to his wife, is his 25-year-old adopted daughter Danielle.”

http://www.angelfire.com/ok/kingofcomedy/article/daughter.html tells a controversial story about his sons and his new daughter.

Daughter Danielle was Jerry’s manager in his last years.

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“Abby’s Road, the Long and Winding Road to Adoption and how Facebook, Aquaman and Theodore Roosevelt Helped” leads a couple through their days of infertility treatments and adoption. It is told with gentle (and sometimes not-so-gentle) humor from the perspective of a nerdy father and his loving and understanding wife.

Join Mike and Esther as they go through IUIs and IFVs, as they search for an adoption agency, are selected by a birth mother, prepare their house, prepare their family, prepare themselves and wait for their daughter to be born a thousand miles from home.

WINNER: 2015 Reader’s Favorite Book Award Finalist, Non-Fiction Humor

WINNER: Honorable Mention, 2015 New York Book Festival!

WINNER: Honorable Mention, 2014 Great Midwest Book Festival!

Abby’s Road is available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and at Smashwords.

 

Copyright 2017 Michael Curry

Adoption Spotlight: Hugh Jackman

November is National Adoption Awareness Month.

Hugh Michael Jackman (born 12 October 1968) is an Australian actor, singer, and producer. Jackman has won international recognition for his roles in a variety of film genres. He is known for his long-running role as Wolverine in the X-Men film series, as well as for his lead roles in films such as the romantic-comedy fantasy Kate & Leopold (2001), the action-horror film Van Helsing (2004), the magic-themed drama The Prestige (2006), the epic fantasy drama The Fountain (2006), the epic historical romantic drama Australia (2008), the film version of Les Misérables (2012), and the thriller Prisoners (2013). His work in Les Misérables earned him his first Academy Award nomination for Best Actor and his first Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy in 2013.

In Broadway theatre, Jackman won a Tony Award for his role in The Boy from Oz. A four-time host of the Tony Awards themselves, he won an Emmy Award for one of these appearances. Jackman also hosted the 81st Academy Awards on 22 February 2009.

(Source: Wikipedia)

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From: http://www.more.com/entertainment/celebrities/27-famous-people-who-have-adopted-children

Hugh Jackman and wife of 20 years Deborra-Lee Furness have two adopted children: Oscar, 15, and Ava, 10. Jackman has said that he and Furness planned to have adopted and biological children but found out they couldn’t have children naturally.

 

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“Abby’s Road, the Long and Winding Road to Adoption and how Facebook, Aquaman and Theodore Roosevelt Helped” leads a couple through their days of infertility treatments and adoption. It is told with gentle (and sometimes not-so-gentle) humor from the perspective of a nerdy father and his loving and understanding wife.

Join Mike and Esther as they go through IUIs and IFVs, as they search for an adoption agency, are selected by a birth mother, prepare their house, prepare their family, prepare themselves and wait for their daughter to be born a thousand miles from home.

WINNER: 2015 Reader’s Favorite Book Award Finalist, Non-Fiction Humor

WINNER: Honorable Mention, 2015 New York Book Festival!

WINNER: Honorable Mention, 2014 Great Midwest Book Festival!

Abby’s Road is available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and at Smashwords.

 

Copyright 2017 Michael Curry

Sensory-Friendly Theaters: something good from Hollywood…

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We took our seven-year-old daughter to the theater for the very first time. She did very well and sat through the entire movie! She enjoyed the popcorn and the fruit snacks.

It was 10:00 am on a Saturday morning. 10:00am? Weird time for a movie. But Beauty and the Beast is a huge hit and odd movie-times are not unusual for a hit (see my “review” – more in the way of thoughts on the movie – here). As we walked down the hallway of the multiplex to Theater 1 I noticed a sign saying this was a Sensory-Friendly showing.

A what?

Here is an article from June of 2016 from The Mighty:

https://themighty.com/2016/06/movie-theaters-offer-sensory-friendly-screenings-for-autistic-people/

Loud noises, bright lights and foreign smells can make going to the movie theater or seeing a live performance an overwhelming experience for those with autism spectrum disorder. To make showings more inclusive, an increasing number of theaters across the country are now offering “sensory-sensitive” screenings of movies and performances for people living with autism.

“Many people on the autism spectrum experience intense anxiety and heightened sensory sensitivity,” Lori McIlwain, Co-founder & Board Chair of the National Autism Association told The Mighty. ”By making a few simple adjustments, movie theaters can give individuals on the spectrum the opportunity to enjoy a film without judgment or fear.”

According to the Autism Society, approximately 3.5 million Americans live on the spectrum – a huge market for the cinema arts world to tap into. Sensory-sensitive screenings began in 2007, with AMC Entertainment, the second largest cinema chain in America.

Since 2007, AMC has expanded their program to include 175 cinemas in 33 states, about half of their cinemas. Other cinema groups are starting to broaden their offerings as well. The largest cinema chain, Regal Entertainment Group, offers screenings at about 6 percent of their cinemas, 36 out of 565. Smaller chains, like NCG Cinemas, offer sensory-sensitive showings at all 20 of their locations.

Shows billed as sensory-sensitive often include accommodations such as lowered volume and raised lighting. Other theaters skip the previews and make accommodations for special dietary needs. Allowing families to bring their own food is another way theaters can make themselves more accessible, McIlwain said.

Of the cinemas that have sensory-sensitive offerings, most films are geared towards children and families – limiting showings to one children’s movie playing one morning a month. Others offer more frequent showings once a week or several times a month, as well as discounted tickets. AMC is one of the only theater groups to offer screenings for adolescents and adults with autism, occasionally playing movies rated PG-13 and R.

“It’s important to allow individuals with autism to be in a comfortable, low-stress environment where they can simply be themselves,” she said. These screenings all act as a judgment-free zone where patrons are allowed to get up, make noise and act in ways that may otherwise be regarded as disruptive. Because of their relaxed environment, sensory-sensitive screenings can benefit more than just those with autism. Relaxed screenings can also benefit those with learning disabilities, movement disorders, young children and their families, as well as those with neurological conditions like Tourette syndrome.

Movie theaters aren’t the only venues increasing their reach. Playhouses and other performing arts venues are also looking for ways to become more inclusive. Earlier this month, playhouses in New York and California hosted relaxed performances of “Backstage in Biscuitland,” a show about life with Tourette’s. In December, the California Ballet will become the first West Coast dance company to offer a sensory-sensitive production of “The Nutcracker.”

Inclusivity is key, McIlwain said. “We’re happy to see movie theaters promoting inclusivity and hope more will follow suit.”

Among the theater chains with Sensory Friendly shows include Regal Cinemas and Marcus Theaters.

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Our local chain is AMC.  Their website describes Sensory Friendly as:

The program provides a special opportunity for families to enjoy their favorite films in a safe and accepting environment. The auditoriums dedicated to the program have their lights up, the sound turned down and audience members are invited to get up and dance, walk, shout or sing!

The idea for the program began with a request from a parent with an autistic child for a special screening at AMC Columbia Mall 14 in Columbia, MD. More than 300 children and parents attended the first screening.

We are thrilled to now offer the program at many locations nationwide – please see below for a complete list of participating theatres. As a leading theatrical exhibition company, we are so proud to be making a difference in the estimated 1.5 million Americans living with an autism spectrum disorder by offering families a chance to see a movie together – often for the very first time.

Good for them! I am all for Sensory-Friendly showings!

Although it does bring in families that would otherwise not buy movie tickets, and that is their ultimate bottom line; when corporate whores act less like corporate whores – even if only on the surface – we should all encourage it.

The lights were not dimmed very much – kind of like when you first walk in before everything starts – but not as bright as when the movie was over and we finally leave (after sitting through 20 minutes of credits to see Samuel L. Jackson ask Belle to join the Avengers).

The sound is turned down. This is never a bad thing. Even so, in B&B the constant slamming of castle doors thunders through the theater. I can understand how that can help the special-needs movie-goer.

My favorite? At 10:00 the movie started. No previews, no Fanta ads, no house ads to keep quiet and turn off the cell phones and go eat something. No music was piped in before the show started.

And it’s not just for children’s movies – at least at AMC. They plan on Sensory Friendly shows for Fate of the Furious for example. Well, that kind of reminds me of my Facebook post from March 16 of 2013:  “One ticket to see The Hobbit, please.” “For an adult or a child?” “That depends on your opinion of people who goes to see movies like The Hobbit…”

I think it’s wonderful and I applaud AMC and the other chains for doing this kind of thing.

Of course, if they were truly concerned about special needs children and their families during these special showings they would also have lowered their concession prices …

… corporate whore baby steps …

#AMCSensoryFriendly

Copyright 2017 Michael Curry

About the author:

Michael is the author of Abby’s Road, the Long and Winding Road to Adoption and how Facebook, Aquaman and Theodore Roosevelt Helped

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The cover of Abby’s Road

Abby’s Road leads a couple through their days of infertility treatments and adoption. It is told with gentle (and sometimes not-so-gentle) humor from the perspective of a nerdy father and his loving and understanding wife.

Join Mike and Esther as they go through IUIs and IFVs, as they search for an adoption agency, are selected by a birth mother, prepare their house, prepare their family, prepare themselves and wait for their daughter to be born a thousand miles from home.

WINNER: 2015 Reader’s Favorite Book Award Finalist, Non-Fiction Humor

WINNER: Honorable Mention, 2015 New York Book Festival!

WINNER: Honorable Mention, 2014 Great Midwest Book Festival!

Abby’s Road is available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and at Smashwords.

 

 

A Befuddled Father Goes to See Beauty & the Beast

The first movie I saw in the theaters was Walt Disney’s “Robin Hood”.  I’ve been a devotee of the theater experience ever since. Nothing beats a dark theater and a wide screen showing a film you hope will let you escape from the real world.

Sometimes with popcorn; and nowadays a full-fledged dinner and alcoholic drink. Although I miss the days of sneaking in a six-pack …

… or two …

… and I miss drive-ins, too (which is itself a whole other topic)

My daughter is seven years old. This past weekend we took her to HER first movie in a theater. We have been to movie night at the library and have watched movies at home at her own pace. But this was her first real movie experience – popcorn, soda, etc.

It, too, was a Disney movie – the non-animated (I hesitate to use the word “live” with all the CGI in it) version of Beauty & the Beast. For my princess-loving princess, this was a canny choice. She has seen the original many times and will watch anything Disney-princess-related. Sophia the First runs many times on our living room flatscreen.

My wife is also a big fan the original – having many Belle-related dolls in a display cabinet. It’s one of her favorite movies.

Aside #1: my wife’s first movie, by the way, was “Star Wars” which is NOW a Disney movie as well…

Aside #2: the fact that a child’s first movie was made by Disney – especially in the 1960s and ‘70s, is not all that surprising…

When Disney first announced B&B as their next live-action remake, my wife said she wanted to see it. This is a bigger deal than it sounds, as she is not as thrilled by movie-going as I am. And this would be our daughter’s first movie in a theater.

I joked that they could drop me off at the nearest pub on their way. Later I said I would sneak into another movie at the multiplex and meet them in the lobby when it was over.

I kid. I wanted to see it too, grudgingly. Beauty and the Beast was Disney’s masterpiece. I saw it upon release with my mother and sister. I, along with everyone else, fell in love with it. Roger Ebert said, “Beauty and the Beast reaches back to an older and healthier Hollywood tradition in which the best writers, musicians and filmmakers are gathered for a project on the assumption that a family audience deserves great entertainment, too.”  He gave it 4 out of 4 stars – for Ebert, this was a unique grade for a movie that did not show a woman’s nipples.

It was the first animated movie to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture. It is also the only animated movie to ever be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture because the bastards at the Academy changed the rules, saying cartoons would no longer be nominated for Best Picture. And the Academy wonders why they are becoming as relevant as the slide rule …

Beauty and the Beast was a fun movie and did not disappoint. It was not without its flaws, and that is only because of comparisons with the original. Granted, it is not fair to compare ANY movie with the original, but a remake is asking for it.

The new version is Jan to the original’s Marsha. Comparisons are inevitable, expected and never in Jan’s favor. Marsha, Marsha, Marsha.

Were there no original, this version would have been more highly touted.

It. Was. A. Good. Movie.

But when the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra performs Mozart, it may be beautiful. Its majesty may bring tears to my eyes.

But it’s not Mozart performing Mozart.

Emma Watson made a pretty Belle, and captured her independence and strength. It was good casting. And that WAS her singing throughout – she has a lovely voice. But it lacked the operatic quality of the opening number (“Belle” – NOT the opening number of the remake) by Paige O’Hara that made one swoon. I fell in love with Belle at that song’s break (“Oh, isn’t this amazing…”). Emma Watson’s singing voice – as marvelous as the rest of her performance was – didn’t have that reach.

During an interview, Ewan McGregor said he did not see the original. His loss. His reasoning was that, therefore, he would not even subconsciously base Lumiere on the performance by Jerry Orbach. Our loss. And his mistake – Jerry’s version outshown Ewan’s in every frame. It was not McGregor’s fault, but how could he possibly compete? First Alec Guinness, now Jerry Orbach …  Marsha Marsha Marsha.

Imagine a clip in this movie where Chip looks up into a cupboard to an older teapot and says, “Good night, Grandma” and the teapot (the voice of Angela Landsbury) says “Good night, Luv.” It would have taken five seconds and audiences would have broken into tears. Did Ms. Landsbury refuse to have any part in the movie (doubtful)? Did the producers not want any part of the original (likely)? It would only have helped – a blessing from the original cast would have helped us purists not be such … purists.

And what harm could have come to allow David Ogden Stiers (Cogsworth in the original) to have just one line … one? Not that Sir Ian McKellen did a bad job. He was a highlight!

BUT – when Cogsworth was on the steps of the entrance and the villagers approached? Just a quick “you shall not pass”?

“Daddy, sit down. Stop clapping.”

Mordant bleu! Even Wesley Eure and Kathy Coleman were given cameos (albeit they are still on the cutting-room floor) in that god-awful Land of the Lost remake vomited upon us some years ago … so shame on you Disney.

My main issue with the remake is simply … why?

BUT … go see it and enjoy it. We did. Then go home and watch the DVD of the original and enjoy that, too

We did.

Marsha Marsha Marsha!!

 

It was 10:00 am on a Saturday morning. 10:00am? Weird time for a movie. But Beauty and the Beast is a huge hit and odd movie-times are not unusual for a hit. As we walked down the hallway of the multiplex to Theater 1 I noticed a sign saying this was a Sensory-Friendly showing.

A what?

 

to be continued …

Copyright 2017 by Michael Curry

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About the blogger:

Michael is an author of fiction and non-fiction, including  …

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Toddler TV: A Befuddled Father’s Guide to What the Kids are Watching

https://michaelgcurry.com/toddler-tv/

Marvel Novel Series #7: Dr. Strange – Nightmare!

#7: Dr. Strange, Master of the Mystic Arts: Nightmare by William Rotsler

The author is a four-time Hugo Award winner for his art and the author of many Star Trek novels as well as the author of the novelizations of the movies Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger and Futureworld. He died in 1997. He wrote Marvel Novel #6 And Call my Killer … Modok.

Cover by Bob Larkin, released June 1, 1979; the book is 188 pages long, although the story begins at page 9. Illustrations of Dr. Strange begin each chapter, as was done with #1: The Amazing Spider-Man: Mayhem in Manhattan and #2: The Incredible Hulk: Stalker from the Stars; but as with the two prior books, there is no credit as to who drew them. It may be easy to guess, but I would rather not!

The book is “packaged and edited by Len Wein and Marv Wolfman.”  Len Wein is the co-creator of DC’s Swamp Thing and Marvel’s Wolverine as well as joining him with Nightcrawler, Storm and Colossus as the All-New X-Men. Marv Wolfman is known for his excellent run on Tomb of Dracula. Within a few years of this novel he would write for one of the best comics ever created – Night Force – and co-create the New Teen Titans

For the first time, the paperback contains four pages of ads for other Pocket Books – including a selection of occult books, their Space 1999 series and books by science fiction authors John Jakes, Larry Pournelle, Theodore Sturgeon, AE Van Vogt, Jack Vance, Kate Wilhelm and Jack Williamson.

Gratmens: who knows? As silly as Strange’s incantations are, each name could be a hidden friend or comic book professional. The king of the Hittites or the ancient god-mage of the Nubians could have been an anagram for anyone. Page 81’s Alantripi, an Atlantean Sage seems an obvious gratmen – but a quick internet search reveals nothing…

Some of his common phrases are here: the Hoary Hosts of Hoggarth, the Crimson Bands of Cyttorak, the Vapors of Valtorr, and the Yawning Yowls of Jagermeister. Well, I made up that last one. I once joked about Dr. Strange’s Amulet of Amaretto and have never forgotten it. It’s a fun game! Try it! Make one up of your own!

 

This is my favorite book of the series. I love them all, really. Not a stinker in the bunch.  Granted these are not the collected works of Hemingway, but they are all fun superhero fare.

Maybe that’s why I like this one so much; like its protagonist, it is not necessarily a superhero story: it is mystical and magical! There are references to the Necronomicon and the Dreamlands.

The story itself is very Lovecraftian: At least three people in the world are having disturbing nightmares. One is a televangelist, the other an up-and-coming boxer and the third (that the readers know of) is a hitman/assassin.  The evangelist’s wife is concerned: the minister is on the brink of “stardom” and he has not been the same since the nightmares started.

Dr. Strange senses something is indeed wrong and injects himself into the minister’s dreams. There he runs into his old adversary Nightmare, who is planning his most nefarious plan yet to conquer the waking world!

 

Oddly, I was never a huge fan of Dr. Strange’s comic book. I read them and liked them, but they were always read AFTER more standard superhero books. I did not much like magic and mysticism in comics … still don’t: it was never a good fit. In other books, most notably the Defenders, Dr. Strange was limited to blasting the bad guys with energy bolts from his hands – far removed from the incantations in this novel.

Just as odd: superheroes in prose was, to me, nothing more than light reading.  Fun, sure! But as I said; this isn’t exactly Hemingway.

It makes sense that I would enjoy a novel about a supernatural character rather than a super-heroic one.

It is also the easiest book to re-do without the Marvel characters. This could have easily been re-written with a descendent of Randolph Carter or a new creation.  Can you imagine the massive rewrite that And Call my Killer … Modok would have to go through to wipe out Marvel’s presence?

Rotsler did a fine job here. Only a tiny fraction of the cringe-worthy dialogue from his prior Iron Man book (“Me, Modok, he tried to trick!”) is present in Nightmare.

Dr. Strange’s multi-chapter hunt for Clea in the many-doored dreamscape is inspiring.

I read this just before the Dr. Strange movie came out. I couldn’t WAIT and was not disappointed!  You won’t be either.

 

Original Material Copyright 2017 Michael Curry

 

Characters mentioned are copyright their respective holders. Thanks to Marvel Comics and Pocket Books for the use of their images. Cover image was taken by the author.

I also thank the original creators of all characters mentioned, whether or not they have been properly compensated or credited.

 

Thanks for the Memories!  A National Adoption Month/Veteran’s Day Spotlight on Bob Hope

Three of the most famous – and funny – comedians of the 20th Century were George Burns, Jack Benny and Bob Hope. They and their wives adopted all their children.

November is National Adoption Month. November 11th is Veteran’s Day. Who else would make the perfect Spotlight?

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Really? You want to know about Bob Hope? There have been as many words written about Bob Hope as there are miles he travelled entertaining the world. Okay, here goes:

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From Wikipedia:

Bob Hope, (born Leslie Townes Hope, May 29, 1903 – July 27, 2003) was an English-American comedian, vaudevillian, actor, singer, dancer, athlete, and author. With a career spanning nearly 80 years, Hope appeared in over 70 films and shorts. In addition to hosting the Academy Awards 19 times (more than any other host), he appeared in many stage productions and television roles and was the author of fourteen books. The song “Thanks for the Memory” is widely regarded as Hope’s signature tune.

Born in London, England, Hope arrived in America with his family at the age of four and grew up in Cleveland, Ohio. He began his career in show business in the early 1920s, initially on stage, and began appearing on the radio and in films in 1934. He was praised for his comedy timing, specializing in one-liners and rapid-fire delivery of jokes—which were often self-deprecating, with Hope building himself up and then tearing himself down. Celebrated for his long career performing United Service Organizations (USO) shows to entertain active service American military personnel—he made 57 tours for the USO between 1941 and 1991—Hope was declared an honorary veteran of the United States Armed Forces in 1997 by act of the U.S. Congress.  He also appeared in numerous specials for NBC television, starting in 1950, and was one of the first users of cue cards.

He was married to performer Dolores Hope (née DeFina) for 69 years. Hope died at the age of 100 at his home in Toluca Lake, California.

From Legacy.com:

The nation’s most-honored comedian, a millionaire many times over, was a star in every category open to him — vaudeville, radio, television and film, most notably a string of “Road” movies with longtime friend Bing Crosby. For decades, he took his show on the road to bases around the world, boosting the morale of servicemen from World War II to the Gulf War.

He perfected the one-liner, peppering audiences with a fusillade of brief, topical gags: “I want to tell you, I was built like an athlete once – big chest, hard stomach. Of course, that’s all behind me now.”

hope-kids

All four Hope children were adopted from The Cradle in Evanston, Illinois. A brief search of the internet is confusing: one site says Nora Hope was born in 1930 and another that she was adopted in 1946. This could make her 16 when she was adopted by the Hopes. Family photos dispute this. I will thus avoid dates:

Linda Hope is the holder of her father’s legacy – producing many of his last specials and controlling the releases of his work for home viewing.

William Kelly Francis Hope, an actor.

Anthony J Hope died June 28, 2004. He worked in Washington as an attorney.

Eleanora (“Nora”) Avis Hope.

 

frontcover

The cover of Abby’s Road

“Abby’s Road, the Long and Winding Road to Adoption and how Facebook, Aquaman and Theodore Roosevelt Helped” leads a couple through their days of infertility treatments and adoption. It is told with gentle (and sometimes not-so-gentle) humor from the perspective of a nerdy father and his loving and understanding wife.

Join Mike and Esther as they go through IUIs and IFVs, as they search for an adoption agency, are selected by a birth mother, prepare their house, prepare their family, prepare themselves and wait for their daughter to be born a thousand miles from home.

WINNER: 2015 Reader’s Favorite Book Award Finalist, Non-Fiction Humor

WINNER: Honorable Mention, 2015 New York Book Festival!

 WINNER: Honorable Mention, 2014 Great Midwest Book Festival!

 

Abby’s Road is available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and at Smashwords.

 

 

Copyright 2016 Michael Curry

 

 

A Funny Thing About Adoption …

November is National Adoption Month. This blog series focuses on three legendary comedians connected not only by fame and their craft, but also because of their children …

For most of the twentieth century if you asked who were the best (or at least most famous) comedians you would be told, not necessarily in this order, George Burns, Jack Benny and Bob Hope.

Each one would be a face on a comedian’s Mount Rushmore.

hope-burns-benny-3

Each one garnered success in every venue of their careers: vaudeville, radio, television and film (don’t let Benny’s self-deprecation fool you – he parleyed his filmography into comic gold. And “To Be or Not to Be” is actually a great film!).

Each was, to some extent, ignored, forgotten or even vilified by the generations after them. Despite this, their brand of comedy has survived the test of time. Watching each of them at their peak (and George Burns had more than one) still provides genuine laughter.

Each of them adopted their children. Their wives – Gracie Allen (who at one point was more famous – and funnier – than her husband), Mary Livingston and Dolores Hope – had no children naturally with their husbands, and each couple decided to adopt.

This three-part blog series will not go into the “why” they adopted. In those pre-internet and 24/7 celebrity days the reasons were personal and remained so. Were there health reasons – were one or both unable to conceive? Gracie’s Wikipedia entry says they were unable to conceive, but there is not citation.

They were all very close friends (the Benny/Burns friendship would nowadays be called a “bromance”) – did they ever discuss it? When the first one to adopt a child did so, did the other two jump on the bandwagon? Celebrities adopting children in the 1930s was trendy. …

We may never know. What we DO know is that these three legends of comedy brought laughter and joy to millions for over three-quarters of a decade in the twentieth century; and also gave children who did not share their DNA a family and a home.

More to come …

frontcover

“Abby’s Road, the Long and Winding Road to Adoption and how Facebook, Aquaman and Theodore Roosevelt Helped” leads a couple through their days of infertility treatments and adoption. It is told with gentle (and sometimes not-so-gentle) humor from the perspective of a nerdy father and his loving and understanding wife.

Join Mike and Esther as they go through IUIs and IFVs, as they search for an adoption agency, are selected by a birth mother, prepare their house, prepare their family, prepare themselves and wait for their daughter to be born a thousand miles from home.

WINNER: 2015 Reader’s Favorite Book Award Finalist, Non-Fiction Humor

WINNER: Honorable Mention, 2015 New York Book Festival!

 WINNER: Honorable Mention, 2014 Great Midwest Book Festival!

Abby’s Road is available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and at Smashwords.

 

Copyright 2016 Michael Curry

Beatlemania at its most … high!

A review of Eight Days a Week; the Touring Years

A film by Ron Howard

Part Three: 1965 – Beatlemania at its most … high!

 

Read Part one here.

Read Part two here

 

A film chronologically showing the Beatles touring and recording during the years of Beatlemania.

52 minutes (and three years) into the film we have an interlude focusing on George Martin. With Martin’s brief bio (Goon Show producer, he explains how he “produces” a Beatle song) we see a longer segment of the Fabs working in the studio than anywhere else in the movie except at the ending.

But who is complaining? We get to hear the evolution of the song Eight Days a Week – from which the movie gets its title – beginning as a demo to rehearsing the “Oooo”s to the final song. Wonderful!

This segment has my favorite line. Ringo: “On the early records, George Martin was a god.”

“Later ones, too,” I shouted from my couch in the living room! Good for you, Ringo!

For the Mania Years (as opposed to the Studio Years), 1965 was the band’s highlight. The Beatles were the first band to do a stadium tour, including the now-legendary Shea stadium performance in front of 56,000 people (bootlegs of the show on DVD and VHS can still be found – the picture and sound quality are wonderful but WARNING: the music MAY have been reproduced by the Fabs sometime later and dubbed in).

The Fabs, in current interviews as well as old ones, discuss how awful their performances were becoming. They could not hear themselves on their monitors. Ringo said he had to watch John or Paul to see when a song ended.  Baseball stadiums used their own sound systems in which it was hard enough to hear at-bat announcements let alone rock music. The film gave an example of what the Beatles’ concert must have sounded like through that kind of system. An AM signal going through a tunnel was clearer…

But I disagree. I have always disagreed with that. The few legitimately-recorded concerts (where the producers strived for quality) – such as the Shea stadium (although some of it may have been overdubbed by the Fabs themselves), the Hollywood Bowl (the only – to date – legitimate Mania-era live performance released as an album) and 1966’s Budokan shows were excellent! Not superb, but they were great and exciting live shows!

***

The movie, as are most Beatle documentaries, is sprinkled with modern interviews as well as archived interviews, press conferences and newsreels.

Along with Paul and Ringo, we meet writers, historians, musicians and celebrities telling us their Beatle stories: why they are fans and the impact on themselves personally and professionally: Richard Curtis, Eddie Izzard, Whoopie Goldberg, Elvis Costello, Malcolm Gladwell, Dr. Kitty Oliver (who tells us about sitting in a desegregated audience for the first time during a Beatle concert), Howard Goodall (I gasped when I saw him. And of course he discussed the Fabs’ musical writing style and impact, comparing them to Shubert and Mozart – his being a Beatle fan should not have been surprising…), Jon Savage, and Sigourney Weaver.

Sigourney Weaver’s story of attending the Hollywood Bowl show is a highlight. Being a descendent of media royalty (her father, Pat Weaver, was president of NBC in the 1950s and the creator of “Today” and “the Tonight Show”), she was filmed at the concert. We hear her in 2016 telling the story and watch her as a teenager shouting for John. And she hasn’t aged a day.

Whoopie Goldberg’s comments were the most moving. “You like that white group?” She would be asked. To me, she explained, the Beatles were neither black nor white. They were just the Beatles. And it didn’t matter if you were black, white, rich, poor … everyone loved the Beatles and they helped her learn she could be however she wanted to be and it was okay – you were still a Beatle fan!

Especially moving was the story of her mother, somehow, affording two tickets to the Shea stadium show. You’ll swallow back a tear just like she did.

Throughout the movie, especially during the 1964 US tour, was the commentary of Larry Kane, a reporter who toured with the Fabs. The movie replayed his 1964 reports along with his current thoughts, opinions and reminiscences.

He was a witness to these events. At first he was cynical (he was warned by his father to not do it) but quickly became a fan and friends with the Beatles. To hear him describe being mobbed by up to 7,000 screaming teenagers is at once thrilling and terrifying…

… and touching. When his mother died in1964, for example, John and Paul were especially sympathetic. Paul then tells us of him and John losing their mothers as well. It was the only time the movie harkened back to pre-Beatle days (a clip of George Martin and the Goon Show aside).

Kane is to this movie what Shelby Foote was to Ken Burns’ “Civil War”.

***

As with 1964, there was a segment on the filming of that year’s movie, “Help”. Here is where some of the cracks begin to show.

Surprisingly, Paul admits that the band was stoned during the filming. George and John had admitted this long ago, but for Paul to say so means only one of two things: 1) either HE was stoned during the interview, or 2) the band was REALLY stoned during the filming of “Help”.

The Beatles being awarded the MBE at the end of 1965 was a strange addition – the film ignores any event that had nothing to do with the music (including, up until now, their drug use).

But the MBE segment allowed the Fabs to talk about their dissatisfaction with touring and the constant pressure of being a Beatle. They found the studio more and more liberating. Lyrics such as “was she told when she was young that pain would lead to pleasure” would hardly be heard let along understood through baseball stadium PA systems and 50,000 screaming teens (paraphrasing Elvis Costello).

As a live group, the normally unbendable Beatles bent. In 1966, they would break.

***

Part Four the last is next …

Corporate shill department: I published a fictional account of John F Kennedy meeting the Beatles, titled, appropriately enough, “The Day John F Kennedy met the Beatles”, available here on Kindle. I hope you enjoy it!

 

Original Material copyright 2016 Michael Curry

… and in the end … part four of a review of Eight Days a Week, the Touring Years

A review of Eight Days a Week; the Touring Years

A film by Ron Howard

Part Four: 1966 and beyond…

 

Read Part one here.

Read Part two here.

Read Part three here.

 

1966 was the end of the Beatles as a touring band. The movie shows their frustration.

The year began with three months off! The Fabs are shown lounging in a pool. We see Ringo’s and John’s homes and family snapshots with their children – the only mention of their spouses and children in the entire film (and only Julian is shown).

Although John hardly lived in familial bliss, it showed the band start to drift apart physically and musically. We are introduced to George’s love of Indian music, for example.

We finally see their warts – something the film has avoided up until now. But then again, it had never affected their live performing.

The film tells us the story and shows a montage of the Butcher cover for the US album “Yesterday … and Today”.

On that subject: is this the ONLY documentary of the Beatles that does NOT even MENTION “Yesterday”?! They performed it live in 1966, but there is no clip of their singing it. Leaving out “Hey Jude” is understandable – the song is out of the movie’s timeline – but a song that has been played over seven million times? Of which there are over two thousand versions?

Wow …

The film next shows us the recording of the “Revolver” album. George Martin, Howard Goodall and the Fabs describe how their musical tastes are finally diverging. They are using Indian music and avant-garde techniques in their recordings. More importantly, they describe how hard (impossible) it will be to replicate these songs in a baseball stadium, where even an announcer’s voice sounds like white noise. “Tomorrow Never Knows?” Forget it …

There is one clip that I have never seen (it still amazes me that after over 50 years there are still film clips and photos that are truly so rare) and it shows the rot of 1966 – even the press is turning against the Fabs. In Hamburg a reporter asks the group why they are so “horrid snobby”.

“That’s your interpretation,” John says, in a tone we will hear a lot in the late 60s and early 70s usually in a bed with Yoko at his side. Paul gives a diplomatic answer (akin to “the quality of our answers reflects the quality of your questions”) which gets an applause, but his tone still has bite. Yikes! Even Paul is getting snippy!

The rest of the 1966 segment is filled with familiar Beatle lore: the protests in Tokyo, the Marcos “snub” in the Philippines and the US tour marred by protests over John’s “bigger than Jesus” remark – events even the poorest of Beatle documentaries portray (that’s not meant to be derogatory – it just means that I won’t go into detail about them here).

And again despite the complaints of their quality, Budokan (for example) is an excellent show with clear audio and video! Bootlegs of the concert exist.

The movie shows the silent film made of the last live performance in San Francisco, with the Fabs providing commentary.  George started the group’s anti-touring movement as early as the Shea stadium show, but by the time this Frisco show was finished, the other three finally agreed.

Paul McCartney has a poor cassette recording of this concert made by Tony Barrow. As bad as the sound quality (perhaps not the music) undoubted is, why didn’t he share it with the producers anyway? It can’t be any worse than the sound recording of the village fete where Paul met John …

The Mania Years were over.

***

For the next five minutes the movie does a recap of the Studio Years. They spend most of the time showing the evolution of “Strawberry Fields Forever” with the Beatles in their Carnaby-Street-pre-Sgt-Pepper clothing as well as clips of the party leading up to the recording of “All You Need is Love”. There is a photo montage of their last six albums.

A placard tells us of one last live performance on the rooftop of Apple Records in January 1969.

***

Three songs performed at the rooftop concert concluding “Let It Be” complete the film. The clips are clear, clean and sound fantastic! Despite assurances that everything Apple Corps is resolved we STILL do not have “Let It Be” in DVD. Why? I’m glad this movie managed to get permission to use more than just a brief clip: we hear nearly the entirety of “Don’t Let Me Down”, for example. Although “Let It Be” is available as a bootleg, it will be nice to finally get a clean copy.

***

“Eight Days a Week” is an excellent primer on the Beatles, their music and their live performances, along with the good and bad that came with it. It focuses on only one part of the Beatle mythos but does so thoroughly.

For other events during the Mania Years – or the Early or Studio Years – you may have to rely on documentaries such as “the Compleat Beatles” or “the Beatles Anthology”. Like those, “Eight Days a Week” is something of a white-washed version. For more dirt you may have to rely on books such as Cynthia Lennon’s books on John or former insider Peter Brown’s “The Love You Make”, of which Beatles insiders protesteth too much; if you know what I mean. Ron DiLello’s “The Longest Cocktail Party” is a rollicking fun read on the Fabs’ Apple Corp. The recent “Paul McCartney: A Life” by Phillip Norman is another warts-and-all biography. I am currently listening to the audio book and will review that in a few weeks.

Eric Idle’s “The Rutles: All You Need is Cash” is the closest anyone has come to likely capturing the real Beatles experience … from the Beatles’ viewpoint! George and John are on record as having loved it (George produced and appeared in it).

The only similar documentary is the recent “the Beatles: The First US Visit”, a re-release of a BBC documentary made in 1964 of the Fab’s US tour.

But “Eight Days a Week” has a broader scope than that made-for-television doc.  The movie is excellently done. It’s a great jumping-on point for young people first learning about their parent’s (grandparent’s?) favorite group and more about them can be learned elsewhere if their curiosity is whetted.

Old fans can bask in the Mania they may have been too young to experience. Plus there is enough “new” or unseen material to keep us interested.

5:50 into the movie is when Paul almost tears up. The movie is worth that alone.

It is available free to Hulu subscribers or on pay-per-view. It will be released in DVD sometime in the next few months.

I would buy the soundtrack if it consisted of live performances and the rehearsals. The movie rarely plays studio recordings and then mostly over commentary. If you have the Beatle’s music catalogue there will be nothing new here.

I already have the studio recording of “I Want to Hold your Hand”, thank you; but I’ll take the rehearsals of “Eight Days a Week” and the live “Nowhere Man”, please!

***

I cannot resist one personal story: when I loaded Hulu to watch it for the first time my six-year-old daughter walked into the living room and asked what I was watching. When I told her the film title she looked at me and said, “Daddy! There aren’t eight days in a week!” Which pretty much summed up her feelings about the movie.

 

I did not intend for this review to go on for four blogs; it must have meant I enjoyed writing about it as much as I enjoyed watching the movie. I hope you enjoyed it!

Corporate shill department: I published a fictional account of John F Kennedy meeting the Beatles, titled, appropriately enough, “The Day John F Kennedy met the Beatles”, available here on Kindle. I hope you enjoy it!

 

 

Original Material copyright 2016 Michael Curry