The Stars My Destination: AD ASTRA, reviewed.

Brad Pitt is the boy in the bubble. (Fox)

James Gray’s Ad Astra is a stirring, plausible space odyssey in the tradition of 2001, Sunshine, and Interstellar—but its real antecedent is Apocalypse Now. My NPR review is here.

When They Stop Looking at Us: Fairview, reviewed.

Chinna Palmer in the Woolly production of Fairview. (Teresa Castracane)

When I saw Woolly Mammoth Theater Company’s production of Jackie Sibblies Drury’s We Are Proud to Present... in 2014, it was the worst show I’d ever seen. Five-and-a-half years later, it still is. So to say that I liked Woolly’s new production of Fairview, Drury’s Pulitzer Prize-winner that made its debut last year, better than her previous work is of little value. But I liked it a lot. I appreciated it, more like.

I do understand that my approval is not required. It never is. My Washington City Paper review is here.

Pop Culture Happy Hour: The Goldfinch and What’s Making Us Happy

Finn Wolfhard and Oakes Fegley do Vegas like the Rat Pack. (Warner Bros.)

Today’s Pop Culture Happy Hour is a special one for me because Jess Reedy summoned me to huddle with Barry Hardymon, Katie Pressley, and host Stephen Thompson on The Goldfinch John Crowley’s new film adaptation of a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Donna Tartt that remains far afield of my usual bailiwicks of fisticuffs and rocketships. Plus I get to shout out Meow Wolf, perhaps the highlight of my visit to New Mexico last week.

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Fabulation, or The Re-Education of Undine, reviewed.

Felicia Curry (center) is the star of Mosaic’s Fabulation. (Christopher Banks)

Lynn Nottage has won two Pulitzer Prizes for Drama in the 15 years since her play Fabulation, or the Re-Education of Undine was first performed; there is no Pulitzer Prize for Comedy. Mosaic Theater’s production of Undine gets its weakest scenes out of the way early, though even in its most heart-rending moments I yearned for a little more variation in the rhythm of star Felicia Curry’s speech. I’ve loved her in many other shows. My Washington City Paper review is here.

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The Squeaky Gun Gets the Grease: Assassins at Signature Theatre, reviewed.

The lineup of killers and would-be killers. (Photo: Christopher Mueller)

Whether a production of Assassins uses period-accurate prop guns doesn’t matter. Whether the director of a 2019 Assassins has thought about how our relationship to gun violence, mental illness, & presidential politics has changed since 1990 matters a lot. My review of Signature Theatre’s second, and weaker, 21st-c. take on Stephen Sondheim’s scandalous late-20th century musical is in this week’s Washington City Paper.

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The Boss-tic Gospels: Blinded by the Light, reviewed.

Viveik Kalra plays a fictionalized version of journalist Sarfraz Manzoor’s adolescent self.

My abiding love and respect for the work of Bruce Springsteen is a matter of public record and of a couple dozen records. But I must report to you that Bend It Like Beckham director Gurinder Chadha’s new movie Blinded by the Light, about how The Boss inspired Pakistani-British journalist Sarfraz Manzoor to pursue his dream of becoming a writer despite the poverty and racism that surrounded him in Margaret Thatcher’s England, is the jazz-handsy Springsteen jukebox musical that Springsteen on Broadway was supposed to protect us from. It boasts some wonderful performances, though, as well as a previously unreleased Springsteen song that at one point was going to appear on the soundtrack of… Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Huh.

Anyway, my NPR review of Blinded by the Light is here.

Pop Culture Happy Hour: Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw

Kirby, Statham, & Johnson are Shaw, Shaw & Hobbs.

Yesterday’s exciting episode of Pop Culture Happy Hour featured Linda Holmes’ triumphant return to the host chair after the triumphant publication of her debut novel. Hooray! In a deleted scene, I asked the panel—my forever Fast & Furious viewing-mate Linda, my sister-from-another-mother Daisy Rosario, and new friend Christina Tucker of the Unfriendly Black Hotties podcast—if I was the only one of use suffering from what I am loath to call “Johnson Fatigue.”

Yes, came the three ladies’ reply. It’s just you. So be it! This was an especially fun episode. My review of Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw is right here.

Pop Culture Happy Hour: Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

Brad and Leo, movie stars. (Sony)

Our Pop Culture Happy Hour dissection of Quentin Tarantino’s ninth picture gave me the opportunity to be on a panel with Monica Castillo, a fellow Eugene O’Neill National Critics Institute fellow and someone with whom I’d not previously had the pleasure of speaking, though we have friends and colleagues in common. A fun episode. After some deliberation, we elected to avoid any in-depth discussion of the ending of the film.

The Ampersands of Time: Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw, reviewed.

Bald Is Beautiful: Dwayne Johnson & Jason Statham. (Universal)

Look, all of the Fast & Furious movies have stolen their best bits from better movies, but when the new double-ampersand sidebar flick Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw actually had its cyborg villain, Brixton Lorr (Idris Elba) get orders from an unseen superior to try to turn heroes Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) over to the Dark Side, I still managed to be surprised. My NPR review is here.

The Next-to-Last Picture Show: Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood, reviewed.

Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt star in Quentin Tarantino’s 9th film. (Sony)

The Bruin—the Westwood cinema where Margot Robbie (as Sharon Tate) goes to see herself in the Dean Martin-starring spy spoof The Wrecking Crew midway through Quentin Tarantino’s new Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood—is where I saw Ocean’s 11 (the Soderbergh-Clooney-Pitt one, not the the Dean Martin one) in 2001 and Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines in 2003. I must’ve seen at least a few other movies there, but those are the two I remember.

I like QT’s new picture a whole lot. My NPR review awaits you.

Collateral Ham-age: Stuber, reviewed.

Dave Bautista and Kumail Nanjiani are better than the movie they’re in. (Hopper Stone/Fox)

Halfway through another summer packed with sequels and reboots and brand IP extensions, it give me no pleasure, none at all, to have to tell you that Stuber, an action comedy from an “original” screenplay and starring two very talented and appealing comic actors in Dave Bautista and Kumail Nanjiani… is just Collateral, only not as good.

My NPR review is here. Ugh! I feel terrible!

527 Dog Years: Mike Daisey tells A People’s History

Class is in session. (Darrow Montgomery for the Washington City Paper)

Mike Daisey is an artist I’ve written about more often and in greater detail than only anyone else. He’s certainly the artist with to whom I’ve spent the most time speaking directly. The reviews I’ve written of his monologues and the features I’ve reported about how he creates them and the op-ed I was once moved to write in his defense all reflect my great admiration for his work.

That has not prevented me from condemning him when I think he’s deserved it, and he did do something that warranted condemnation, years ago. I will say that in the third year of a Donald J. Trump administration, it seems awfully quaint that so many journalists who had never publicly discussed theatre at all before they lined up to express their outrage at Daisey in the spring of 2012 got so steamed over a guy who tells stories in theaters for a living taking some liberties with one of them.

Anyway, Daisey’s wildly ambitious current show A People’s History—an 18 part retelling of American history circa 1492-to-now, based heavily on the work of Howard Zinn but also on Daisey’s own life—is the subject of my second Washington City Paper cover story about him, available today wherever finer Washington, DC alt-weeklies are given away for free. My 2012 WCP story detailing the problems he created for himself with his show The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, and his effort to remedy them, is here. In fact, all of my writings about Daisey are mere clicks away! How much time do you have?

Pop Culture Happy Hour: Spider-Man: Far From Home and What’s Making Us Happy

Tom Holland gets some enhanced screening from Giada Benedetti. (Columbia)

Host Linda Holmes is off promoting her already New York Times-bestselling debut novel Evvie Drake Starts Over this month, so Glen and Stephen handled the hosting chores on PCHH this episode, with Mallory Yu and me in chairs three and four to talk about Spider-Man: Far From Home. It is the eighth movie by volume with the proper noun “Spider-Man” in the title since 2002. (For more important data analysis, see my NPR review of the movie.)

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Trump’s “A Salute to America” is just a dumber reboot of 1970’s “Honor America Day.”

A dollar well spent.

I’ve bought an embarrassing number of weird old records over the last several years, some of them priced considerably higher than the $1 I dropped on Proudly They Came… to Honor America. The double LP was a memento from “Honor America Day,” a 1970 Independence Day observance organized by President Nixon’s inaugural committee chair.

I’d never heard of that event until I found this record, but when I read up on it, mostly in Kevin J. Kruse’s 2015 book One Nation Under God, it struck me as similar in intention to the self-aggrandizing “Salute to America” that President Trump has announced for this Thursday, but far less dire and militaristic. I wrote about all this for the Washington Post.

Does Whatever a Spider Can, in Europe: Spider-Man: Far From Home, reviewed.

Secret identity, shmecret identity: Numan Acar, Tom Holland and Jacky Gyllenhaal.

Here’s my NPR review of Spider-Man: Far From Home, a lovably shaggy vestigial tale on the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Y’all are great at this. Now just stop it for a while already.

I’ll be on Pop Culture Happy Hour next week to talk about the movie with the great Mallory Yu, Pal-for-Life Glen Weldon, and guest host Stephen Thompson.

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Despite Its Pedigree, A Doll’s House, Part 2 Is a Fixer-Upper

Holly Twyford as Nora Helmer, 15 years after that door-slam rocked the 19th-century world. (Kaley Etzkorn)

I’ve been looking forward to seeing Lucas Hnath’s A Doll’s House, Part 2 for a couple of years. The announcement that the Broadway hit’s DC premiere from Round House Theatre would star the great Holly Twyford as Nora? Music to my ears.

In this week’s Washington City Paper, I try to diagnose why Nicole A. Watson’s production is so bloodless.

The Third Time’s the Charmless: Shaft, reviewed.

Jessie T. Usher, Samuel L. Jackson, and Richard Roundtree (Kyle Kaplan)

Some stuff I didn’t have space to say in my NPR review of Tim Story’s not-very-good new Shaft: The distinctive feature of the Shafts is a shared contempt for crosswalks and a love for walking into traffic. And it’s a shame that after Gordon Parks’ Shaft hit big in 1971, newspaperman-turned-novelist-turned screenwriter Ernest Tidyman got right to work adapting his third novel about the Black Private Dick Who’s a Sex Machine to All the Chicks, Shaft’s Big Score!, skipping right over Shaft Among the Jews.

Royal Flush: Godzilla: King of the Monsters, reviewed.

I really liked Gareth Edwards’ 2014 Godzilla, and I want to like any movie with the audacity to call itself Godzilla: King of the Monsters, but Michael Dougherty’s sequel is dreary drag, man. Good enough to catch on a double or triple-bill at Bengies on a gorgeous summer night, but no better than that. I reviewed G: KofM for NPR.

Two Dope Queens: Mary Stuart, reviewed.

Megan Anderson and Eleasha Gamble as Elizabeth and Mary at Olney Theatre Center.

There’s been no shortage of opportunities to see Mary Stuart, Friedrich Schiller’s early 19th century play about mid-16th century skullduggery among queens, in the DMV over the last decade. But Olney Theatre Center honcho Jason Loewith’s stripped-down update is good. I reviewed it in last week’s Washington City Paper.

Pop Culture Happy Hour: John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum and What’s Making Us Happy


Yayan Ruhian and Cecep Arif Rahman face off against Johnny Utah (center).

What a treat to dissect the third and gnarliest John Wick with Linda and Glen and Aisha Harris.

While recommending Brian Raftery’s Best. Movie. Year. Ever: How 1999 Blew Up the Big Screen, I happened to name one of my most be-loathed movies from that year, the Best Picture-winning American Beauty, while omitting the names of my most beloved: Rushmore, Three Kings, Eyes Wide Shut, and so on. Raftery did not include John McTiernan’s remake of The Thomas Crown Affair in his book about 1999’s most notable and groundbreaking movies, probably because a remake of a 30-year-old thriller isn’t groundbreaking, and the movie did not have a substantial cultural impact.

But it was was the last good movie McTiernan made, I’m sorry to say, and I saw it in the theater that summer along with Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace, Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, Notting Hill, American Pie, The Sixth Sense, Mystery Men, and all the rest, and I have revisited it on several occasions since.