Depth and Deprivation: The Children and Love’s Labor’s Lost, reviewed.

I didn’t write about Ella Hickson’s Oil, the best play I’ve seen this year. But I did review Lucy Kirkwood’s The Children, the second-best. I’m struck by how different two plays with ecological themes written by British women born in the 80s that premiered in 2016 can be. I also wrote about Folger’s new production of the seldom-staged Shakespeare comedy, Love’s Labor’s Lost.

Hail, Dehydration! On Avengers: Endgame and the Incredibly Expanding Blockbuster

Jeremy Renner, Don Cheadle, Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Karen Gillan, (voice of) Bradley Cooper, Paul Rudd, Scarlett Johansson and a cast of thousands. (Marvel Studios)

Inspired by Avengers: Endgame, the 182-minute grand finale of the Marvel cinematic saga, I crunched some numbers and examined how blockbusters—especially ones not encumbered by Endgame’s hefty narrative obligations, with so many characters and storylines to pay off—are expanding at a much faster rate than is the human lifespan. I am solely responsible for the math in the piece, and the jokes.

You’ve been warned.

Monsters, Ink: Hellboy, reviewed.

David Harbour inherits the fist, the horns, and the abs from Ron Perlman. (Mark Rogers)

It’s a shame about Hellboy (Neil Marshall, 2019). But we’ll always have Hellboy (Guillermo del Toro, 2004). My NPR review of the former is here. But none of these movies are as satisfying as just reading Mike Mignola’s Hellboy stories on the page, if you ask me.

Pop Culture Happy Hour: Shazam! and What’s Making Us Happy

Jack Dylan Grazer and Zachary Levi in an enthusiastically punctuated superhero comedy.

I had a nice time joining the Pop Culture Happy Hour crew this week to discuss Shazam!, a lighter, brighter DC Comics movie that is also… a nice time. Doubtless I got invited on this episode because of the profile I wrote for the Ventura County Reporter waaaaaay back in January 2003 of Shazam! star Zachary Levi, a Local Boy Made Good for whom God has opened many doors, such as co-starring with Bob Newhart and the modern rhythm-and-blues singer Sisqo (“The Thong Song,” peak position No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100). He admires men of integrity like Tom Hanks and Mel Gibson. The Year of Our Lord Two Thousand Three, friends.

Shazam! is the polar opposite of The Shield, the early-aughts post-Sopranos, pre-Breaking Bad cop show I’m currently revisiting, which is what’s making me happy this week and shall be for many weeks to come, because I bought the big doorstop blu-ray set with all 88 episodes.

You can listen to the episode here.

Only the Elephants Will Remember: Dumbo, reviewed.

Eva Green rides a computer-generated flying elephant. (Disney)

No critique of a long-lived artist is lazier or more boring than “I liked the early shit.” What can I say? I’m enough of a partisan of enough of the movies Tim Burton made back in the previous century that I’m always rooting for him to get his groove back. Alas, his new Dumbo shows no evidence of groove restoration. It’s fine, but any number of hacks like the ones who make Dwayne Johnson vehicles might’ve directed this movie for all the personality it’s got. My NPR review is here.

The Rooms Where It Happened: JQA, reviewed.

Here’s my Washington City Paper review of JQA, a new historical fiction from playwright-director Aaron Posner featuring two men and two women, all of whom play America’s sixth president.

Big Eyes Meets the Star of Big Eyes: ALITA, reviewed.

Rosa Salazar is an amnesiac cyborg super-soldier in the 26th century. (Fox)

Panzer Kunist is, as I’m sure I need not tell a cinephile and aesthete as refined and discerning and educated as you are, an ancient cyborg martial art that has largely died out by the mid-26th century. More importantly, Panzer Kunst has the satisfying hard consonants of words that were forbidden on 20th century television. It seems like it could work as any part of speech, which makes it especially panzer to kunst as kunst as possible. Panzer Kunst!

On the new Alita: Battle Angel. My review is here.

G.I. Jane the Virgin: Miss Bala, reviewed.

2262477 - Gloria

Wherein Gina Rodriguez makes a run at the Reluctant Hero Midwinter Action throne, Ismael Cruz Córdova makes eyes, and Anthony Mackie makes a shockingly brief appearance.

How Men Crumbled: Arena’s Kleptocracy and Ford’s Twelve Angry Men, reviewed.

Something old, something new, something borrowed, something… something. In this week’s Washington City Paper, I review Kleptocracy, an imperfect but intriguing Vladimir Putin origin story by Kenneth Lin at Arena Stage, starring the guy in the cast who looks the second-most Putinlike as Putin. Plus a puzzling new production of Twelve Angry Men at Ford’s.

Raging at the Sea: Serenity, reviewed.

The stars of Interstellar reunite in Serenity.

Serenity is a soapy, dopey thriller from Steven Knight, who’s made some very good ones. Nolanesque ambition, Shyamalanesque skill. With Matthew McConaughey as Baker Dill, a fisherman/tour guide/gigolo who lives in a shipping container and dreams of tuna. Here’s my review.

Pop Culture Happy Hour: Glass and What’s Making Us Happy

Acting Just Right, Acting Too Much, Not Acting Enough (Jessica Kourkounis/Universal)

I am chuffed to be back on the iHeartRadio Podcast Award-nominated Pop Culture Happy Hour this week to discuss Glass, fallen auteur M. Night Shyamalan’s joint sequel to 2000’s Unbreakable and 2017’s Split. It isn’t very good, but the movie has an anachronistic quality that’s sort of… sweet. While it’s made explicitly clear—every damn thing in this movie is explained and re-re-re-explained—that Glass is set 19 years after Unbreakable, Shyamalan acts as though superhero comics haven’t become Hollywood’s No. 1 source of grist during the back half of that period. (In the years since Unbreakable, we’ve seen three different A-list actors play The Incredible Hulk, for chrissakes.)

https://www.npr.org/player/embed/686226272/686317813

A goodly portion of those films have featured Samuel L. Jackson, who, to be fair, looks like he’s having at least as much fun sitting in a wheelchair staring into the middle distance in Glass as he does when he’s cashing another check as Nick Fury. After his brief return to acting in both Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom and Rian Johnson’s Looper back in 2012, I’d hoped maybe Bruce Willis would deign to open his eyes again, but no such luck. And the movie’s top-billed star continues to perform his solo show Scares Ahoy with James McAvoy.

You can listen to the episode here.

The Great War: They Shall Not Grow Old, reviewed.

I was moved by Peter Jackson’s World War I documentary They Shall Not Grow Old, which uses digital wizardry to conjure empathy, not spectacle. I didn’t have space to go into it in my NPR review, but I wondered how J.R.R. Tolkien’s experience of the war might’ve shaped Jackson’s sense of it. Jackson did spend a sizable chunk of his career adapting Tolkien’s novels, for better and for worse.

The Great Work Concludes: Side D of Blue Wave Christmas Hath Dropped

Here’s a rainy New Year’s Eve bonus for you, merrymakers: Side D of Blue Wave Christmas, the yule-mitzvah edition of my longstanding Yuletunes Eclectic & Inexplicable series, has arrived, marking the conclusion of the most ambitious mixtape I’ve yet made. It’s long on merriment, long on obscurity, and long on length. That’s why I had to serve it to you incrementally. With this vestigal-tail chapter, some of the familiar voices from prior iterations have returned after mostly keeping mum so far this year. There are by my reckoning at least seven days of Christmas remaining, so I’ll leave you to it. You can find all four sides on this page. I wish for all of us a better 2019.

Talking Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse on All Things Considered

We didn’t think I’d actually get to interview everyone I had on my to-interview wish list. That never happens. Only this time it did, which is how I came to have five different voices in my four-and-a-half-minute All Things Considered piece on the animation in Spider-Man: Into the Spider Verse, a movie I cannot wait to see again.

All of them—producer Chris Miller, producer/co-screenwriter Phil Lord, co-screenwriter/co-director Rodney Rothman, co-director Peter Ramsey, and finally, Eisner Award-winning comic book writer Brian Michael Bendis, who (with artist Sara Pichelli), created Miles Morales, the primary hero of Spider-Verse—had smart, illuminating things to say. I spoke to Bendis solo and Lord & Miller and Rothman & Ramsey in pairs, and pretty soon I had something like 75 minutes of good tape for a story that could accommodate mmmmaybe two-and-a-half minutes of that.

It was an epic job of cutting, followed by more frantic cutting, and then more surgical cutting. My editor, Nina Gregory, and news assistant Milton Guevara, showed me how radio pros get things done on deadline. Bob Mondello, who’d suggested the piece in the first place, gave me some vocal coaching in the booth.

I wish we could’ve used more of what all those smart, imaginative people had to say. I wish we could’ve made the segment 15 minutes long. But I’m very happy with what we managed to pack into about 240 seconds.

You can listen to the piece here.

In the Loop: Studio’s Kings, reviewed.

I reviewed Kings, DMV native Sarah Burgess’s smart drama about an idealistic freshman Congresswoman, for the Washington City Paper.

It’s True, All of It: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, reviewed.

It takes a lot of spider-beings to make a Spider-Verse. (Sony)

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is the first good Spider-Man movie in, uh, 18 months! But it’s more than that: A fun, warm, visually astonishing omnibus of Spider-lore that elegantly rebukes reactionary fans whose minds are stuck in 1963. I rarely get worked up over animated films—a blind spot I can neither defend nor explain—but I loved this. Here’s my NPR review.

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Intimate Apparel: The Panties, the Profit, and The Partner, reviewed.

Kimberly Gilbert, Carson Elrod, and Turna Mete in The Profit. (Carol Rosegg)

For your Washington City Paper, I reviewed The Panties, the Profit, and the Purse—a series of linked David Ives comedies adapted, with shrinking fidelity, from a trilogy by the 19th century German social critic Carl Sternheim. That sounds awfully highbrow, doesn’t it? Ives is better at farce than at satire, and the show is a better document of what he likes than what he thinks. I liked it, but I’d like it more if Ives would—in the words of the 21st century social critic Boots Riley—”Sho[his]Ass.” As it were.

Pop Culture Happy Hour: Christmas Songs, Our Favorites and The, Watchacallit. Best.

I’d say it was the Pop Culture Happy Hour episode for which I’ve been training my entire life, except we just did the Die Hard episode. Anyway, I was glad to be part of the elite panel of holiday song-pickers summoned to the National Public Radio today to argue which Christmas song is the Muhammad Ali Greatest of All Time yulejam, and which one is our individual favorite at this particular moment. The stakes in the latter instance are lower, but that only complicates the emotional work of choosing, because the shackles of convention are all the way off!

It says something about the company I was in—PCHH regular Stephen Thompson, plus two very smart NPR Music staffers, Lyndsey McKenna and Marissa Lorusso—that my selections were somehow the most uptempo of the lot. (They’re all lovely people, whose affection for mopey holiday songs is one I very much share. Click on “Musics of Christmas,” above, for years and years of evidence.)

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B-Boys & B-Sides: Presenting (the first quarter of) my Lucky 13th Yulemix, Blue Wave Christmas

Have mercy! This is just getting ridiculous now. For the lucky thirteenth iteration of my Yuletunes Eclectic and Inexplicable series, I thought that instead of releasing it in two indefensibly long parts, as had been my habit since I stopped burning and printing physical CDs of this thing—a nice bauble to thrust into some unsuspecting person’s hand, but expensive—I thought I would do a sort of podcast limited series of four episodes, released weekly, counting down to the Feast of Christmas. Because four is more than two—one hundred percent more, from a numerical perspective. And I believe in always giving one hundred percent, Christmaswise. 

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Two-Thirds of a Year of Magical Thinking: Remembering Ricky Jay, my most extraordinary boss.

I learned of my former boss’s passing last Saturday via a text from my friend Brian just after midnight:

“My sincere condolences on your friend Ricky Jay.”

I worked for RJ for eight months, 13 years ago. He was kind to me, and I recall many moments of warmth between us, but it would be disingenuous for me to imply we were buddies. I was his employee. Then again, people who knew him for much longer than I did spoke of being very conscious of minding those kinds of boundaries with him, too.

I didn’t think I was going to write anything about him. I didn’t see how I could without also writing about me, and a rough patch in my life, which seemed perilously narcissistic/self-pitying/starfucking/all of the above.

Then old buddy Glen, who is also, happily, my editor, prodded me to start and I couldn’t stop.