Only three new songs for the month of July, probably because I’ve been too busy listening to “Old Town Road.” All of these bands share in common band names that are challenging to find in a search engine.
Author: Ridley Pearson Title: The Kingdom Keepers: Disney At Dawn Publication Info: New York : Disney Editions, c2008. Summary/Review:
Finn, Charlene, Maybeck, Willa, and Philby return for another adventure as the five young teenagers who defend Walt Disney World from the villainous Overtakers. The story begins with a parade celebrating the return of the kids’ DHIs (holographic hosts who work in the Magic Kingdom), but the appearance of their friends Amanda and Jez forebodes dark times ahead in the Most Magical Place on Earth.
Amanda and Jez are orphans with magical powers only just being revealed to the rest of the Kingdom Keepers, and the are known as Fairlies, as in “Fairly Humans.” When Jez is abducted the Kingdom Keepers not only need to find her but also avoid falling asleep and having their DHIs trapped in the Overtakers’ new server. They spend the day at the Animal Kingdom struggling to keep awake as they solve these mysteries. Charlene gets a particularly good boost in her character as she gets to disguise herself as DeVine, the camouflaged, stilt-walking performer, for reconnaissance purposes.
Aaaaaaaaand, the novel ends on a cliffhanger, meaning that my daughter and I will most certainly be reading the third book in the series.
Several years ago I made a list of Every Book I’ve Ever Read and since then I’ve used both this blog and LibraryThing to keep track of my reading history. I got to thinking recently that I’d also like to have a list of Every Movie I’ve Ever Watched. I sought out an app similar to LibraryThing for movies and the best I could find is Trakt, which did the job, but it’s not very user friendly so I can’t recommend it.
Nevertheless, I have a list of 1483 movies and counting. The asterisk is there because I’m certain I’ve forgotten many movies I watched in the distant past. The list is also embarrassing because in my teens and twenties I had both insomnia and cable tv, meaning I watched lots of baaaaaaaaad movies. On the other hand there are numerous all-time classic movies I’ve never seen, so I’m making an effort to watch some great movies from the 1920s to present that I’ve missed. I will start posting my Classic Movie Reviews on August 1. If there’s a movie you think I should watch, let me know in the comments.
Title: More Tales of the City Release Dates: 2001 Season: 3 Number of Episodes: 3 Summary/Review:
I’ve finished off watching all the televisual adaptions of Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City books with 2001’s More Tales of the City. This is the shortest of all the miniseries and apparently was released in three episodes, although the version I watched on YouTube was edited together into a single three hour movie. The brevity actually benefits the film, because this is the weakest of all 9 Tales of the City books and consolidating the story actually improves the narrative a bit.
More Tales of the City revolved a ludicrous, plot-twist filled story about an Episcopalian cannibal cult. Further Tales of the City revolves around a ludicrous, plot-twist filled story about cult leader Jim Jones living in San Francisco three years after the Jonestown massacre. This main story line has DeDe (Barbara Garrick) and her adorable toddler children returning home after having gone to live at Jonestown, surviving the massacre, escaping to Cuba, and then being expelled for being lesbian. The story does give Garrick a part with more gravitas which she performs well and makes me wonder why DeDe was played mostly for laughs in the 2019 miniseries.
Another central character is Prue (Mary Kay Place), a friend of DeDe’s who had only a small role in previous series, but is the one who discovers and befriends Jim Jones, using the alias Luke (Henry Czerny), when he was living in a maintenance shed in Golden Gate Park. Her sidekick is Father Paddy, a gossipy and secretly gay priest, played by Bruce McCullough (the second member of Kids in the Hall to appear in Tales of the City after Scott Thompson played a bit part in the previous installment). Another newcomer is a pre-Grey’s Anatomy Sandra Oh as news anchor Bambi Kanetaka, who is Mary Ann’s rival at the tv station and who’s mistreatment by the 28 Barbary Lane family reflects poorly on them and is another reason I like this book the least.
The other storylines seem to be treading water. Mary Ann (Laura Linney) and Brian (Whip Hubley) are in a long-term relationship now, but straining over Mary Ann’s career focus (something that is better developed in the later books). Michael (Paul Hopkins) has broken off with Jon (Billy Campbell) basically because of low self-esteem and has a series of flings with an actor (a character Maupin based on his real life lover Rock Hudson), a cop, and a cowboy. And Mother Mucca (Jackie Burroughs) introduces Mrs. Madrigal (Olympia Dukakis) to a man named Royal Reichenbach (John McMartin) in a story created solely for television.
It’s a shame that they were never able to continue adapting the books with the original-ish cast. Book 4, Babycakes, is my favorite of all the books and all three of the books from the 1980s are more character-driven and deal with more serious issues, especially the AIDS crisis. Maupin was one of the first authors to include depictions of AIDS in fiction. Alas, to what could’ve been.
A bizarre incident in 1989 when a man who’d just murdered his wife took to the air in a small airplane and fired an assault rifle at people on the ground in Boston. This seems like a very serious crime, and yet I only learned about it a few years ago, even though I was alive and living in an adjacent state at the time.
An interview with Caroline Criado Perez, author of Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men, on how women are ignored in the design of just about everything, and the dangerous effects of this bias.
Album: Freya Ridings Artist: Freya Ridings Release Date: July 19, 2019 Favorite Tracks: “Castles,” “Wishbone,” and “You Mean the World to Me” Thoughts:
Freya Ridings is a young singer/songwriter from England who joins the tradition of women with bold, powerful voices (such as Adele or Florence Welch) singing songs of love and love lost. There’s nothing innovative on this debut album, but if you like this style of pop singing – and I do – it’s worth adding to your playlist.
Title: Stranger Things Release Dates: 2019 Season: 3 Number of Episodes: 8 Summary/Review:
The phrase “trying to catch lightning in a bottle” comes to mind as I ponder the third season of Stranger Things. The first season of the show came out of nowhere with a perfect recipe of writing, acting, setting, mood, and nostalgia. It’s a tricky thing to repeat, and just as the show was diminished some in season 2, it falls a bit further in season 3. By no means am I saying Stranger Things 3 is bad, I care about these characters and enjoy the stories, but feel it fails to live up to the high standards set by season 1.
At the core of Stranger Things is a pastiche to 1980s American culture. In this season, the story draws upon the renewed Cold War hysteria of Reagan’s America and the trope of the “evil Russian” that found its way into propagandist movies such as Red Dawn, Amerika, Rambo, Top Gun, and The Day After. There’s no deconstruction of the trope as the show plays it straight depicting the Soviets having the ability to secretly build a massive laboratory under the Starcourt Mall in the heartland of America at a time when the real Soviet Union was crumbling. In a show with monsters that invade from a decrepit mirror universe, I found this premise to still be too unbelievable.
Much as the 1980s Cold War hysteria was a gritty callback to the Cold War panic of the 1950 and 1960s, the 1980s was a time when classic horror movies were remade with graphic violence and gratuitous gore. Stranger Things 3 draws a lot of influence from horror movie remakes such as The Thing, The Blob, and Invasion of the Bodysnatchers (which was made in 1978, but I’m including in this list because it is clearly referenced). As a result, this is the goriest and most violent season yet, the sequel that decides to be a full-on action film. In a great moment of metafiction, Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) explains his love for New Coke as it being a remake, like The Thing, that he thinks improves upon the original.
The heart of Stranger Things is its characters, and this season’s biggest struggles are with characters being too broadly characterized. This is true for Billy Hargrove (Dacre Montgomery) who was the creepy, abusive metalhead teen with a traumatic past in season 2, and becomes the creepy, possessed by the Mind Flayer teen with a traumatic past in season 3. Billy deserved better characterization, especially to make his ultimate heroic moment pay off. Priah Ferguson returns as Lucas’ little sister Erica, bumped up from a bit character to one of the main storylines, and although she’s very funny she’s written entirely as a sassy, precocious kid, a la Arnold from Diff’rent Strokes. The final episode seems to indicate a new role for Erica in season 4, and one hope that they flesh out her character. And really, there was no reason to bring back the obnoxious Murray (Brett Gelman), who appeared in a couple of episodes in season 2, much less make him a character who seems to get more screen time than the core children.
My biggest disappointment with this series is with the character of Jim Hopper (David Harbour). He’s always been depicted as a cop who will punch first and ask questions later, but previous seasons revealed that under his gruff exterior is a gentle heart. It’s really distressing to see Hopper’s anger over El (Millie Bobby Brown) and Mike (Finn Wolfhard) spending too much time together, and worse, threatening Mike. Later in the season he completely brutalizes the mayor of Hawkins (Cary Elwes cosplaying the mayor from Jaws, right on down to be named “Larry”). One of the most moving parts of the season is Hopper narrating a letter to El about his feelings, but I’m distraught that this side of Hopper’s character was ignored for the previous 7 episodes.
Like in previous seasons, large cast is split up into different storylines that come together at the end. The kids are becoming teenagers, and Hopper is right about Mike and El spending too much time together. El breaks up with Mike and Max (Sadie Sink) breaks up with Lucas, and in some wonderful scenes El and Max become closer friends. Meanwhile, Will (Noah Schnapp), who lost part of his childhood to the Upside Down, wants to cling to being a kid a bit longer and play D&D. The teenagers from the earlier series are becoming adults. Nancy (Natalia Dyer) and Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) attempt to prepare for a career by interning with the local newspaper. Steve (Joe Keery) works for a paycheck, and maybe to meet girls, at the ice cream shop in the mall alongside an “alternative” girl who he never paid attention to in high school, Robin (Maya Hawke). Robin is the breakout character of the season and seamlessly fits in with existing characters, but I can’t help feeling that she looks like a time traveler from the 1990s (perhaps because Hawke is the daughter of iconic 90s stars Uma Thurman and Ethan Hawke). And the grown-ups, Hopper and Joyce (Winona Ryder), are concerned for the kids, challenged to move on from previous traumas, and resisting their attraction for one another.
In a town with both a Mind Flayer and evil Russians at work, bad things are going to happen. El, Max, Mike, Lucas, and Will discover that Billy is possesed and recruiting more people for the Mind Flayer, and attempt to stop him. Nancy and Jonathan’s investigative reporting uncovers strange behavior in rats that leads to even stranger behavior in humans. The Scoop Troop – Steve and Robin joined by Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) and Erica – investigate Russian ham radio messages and strange goings-on around the Starcourt Mall. While the “Evil Russian” plot is ludicrous, these four definitely get the best storyline, dialogue, and character development. Joyce investigates why magnets are suddenly falling of her refrigerator and convinces a reluctant Hopper to join in. I really like how Ryder plays Joyce as someone who has seen weird shit before, was right about it, and defeated it so now she has a greater confidence and seems more relaxed as she jumps into doing it again. Along the way they capture a Soviet scientist named Alexei (Alec Utgof as the other breakout character of the season despite speaking no English) and get Murray for translation.
While I’ve expressed my reservations about Stranger Things 3 not living up to its potential, the show clearly attempts and succeeds at trying new things, drawing on new influences, and building on the existing story. It’s a great bit of mind candy – with both brains and heart – for summer viewing. I look forward to a fourth season and becoming further acquainted with these characters.
Title: More Tales of the City Release Dates: 1998 Season: 2 Number of Episodes: 6 Summary/Review:
Having watched the new Netflix series Tales of the City and then rewatched the classic 1993 miniseries Tales of the City, I dug up the sequel to the original, More Tales of the City on YouTube of all places. This miniseries suffers from the fact that it’s based on one of the weakest books in the Tales of the City series and can’t improve on its source material. The series also anfeatures several characters cast with new actors that can be jarring.
Paul Hopkins takes over as Michael Tolliver and he end being my least favorite of the three actors to play Michael, as he overdoes the Southern accent and seems to lean in to hard on playing a stereotype of 70s gay man. Nina Siemaszko is somewhat more successful as Mona, playing the character with more vulnerability, but also looking like she’s cosplaying Chloe Webb as Mona. Diana Leblanc takes over for Frannie Halcyon who has a much bigger role in this story, and bears a startling resemblance to Barbara Garrick who plays her onscreen daughter. Françoise Robertson takes over for D’orothea and also is an improvement for a character getting a bigger role. Finally, Whip Hubley plays Brian, and while he looks too much like a 70s sitcom character, he does inhabit the role well.
The miniseries overall does have more of a sitcom feel and a lot of the cinematography and direction that made the original Tales of the City great is replaced by more pedestrian styles. I find the plot twists over-the-top (SPOILER) such as Beauchamp dies in a car wreck, Michael is suddenly paralyzed by Guillain–Barré syndrome, and Burke uncovered a Episcopalian cannibal cult! Again, though, those all come from the original source, so they do the best they can.
The main plots of the story involve Mary Ann (Laura Linney) and Michael going on a cruise to Mexico. Mary Ann finds romance with a man who has amnesia regarding his time in San Francisco, Burke (Colin Ferguson), while Michael is reacquainted with Jon (William Campbell). Meanwhile, Mona, feeling lost in life, journeys to Nevada where she ends up working as a receptionist at a brothel for Mother Mucca (a cracking good Jackie Burroughs who is actually 8 years younger than Olympia Dukakis, despite appearances). Brian, enjoying voyeurism from his new penthouse apartment, starts a long distance fling with a mysterious woman (Swoosie Kurtz, 14 years younger than Olympia Dukakis) in another building via binoculars. DeDe has her babies with the help of her new friend-come-lover D’orthea.
It was interesting to finaly see this after 21 years, but unlike the original, I don’t think it would be worth an additional viewing.
Title: Spider-Man: Far From Home Release Date: July 2, 2019 Director: John Watts Production Company: Columbia Pictures | Marvel Studios Summary/Review:
The 23rd entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the follow-up to Spider-Man: Homecoming, also serves as a coda to Avengers: Endgame. The movie shows the world dealing with the aftermath of The Blip (the term being used to describe people disappearing for 5 years and then returning) and grieving over the loss of multiple Avengers, most prominently Iron Man. Peter Parker and many of his friends had to start over the year of school that was interupted by The Blip and share a class with kids who’ve aged 5 years in the interim.
Peter wants to escape the constant questions of whether he will step into Iron Man’s role and simply enjoy his school’s summer vacation to Europe and express his feelings for MJ (Zendaya). Unfortunately for him, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) tracks him down to fight a series of invaders known as the Elementals. He joins Quentin Beck/ Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal) to fight the Elementals and is carried on a whirlwind journey across Europe from Venice to Prague to Berlin to the Netherlands to London. The movie blends genres among comedy, romance, road trip, and superhero action film. The supporting cast is strong and adds to the strengths of the film, particularly Jacob Batalon as Peter’s best friend Ned, Jon Favreau as Happy Hogan, and Martin Starr as Roger Harrington, a teacher/chaperone who’s doing his best trying to manage the nuttiness of the school trip.
It was pretty clear that Mysterio would turn out to be a villain, although the twist about his actual background was unexpected. I also enjoyed that Peter and Quentin got to have some important heart-to-hearts about being superheroes and hope that Peter can find someone to talk to about such things who won’t double cross him. Like many a sophomore effort, there’s a slump from Homecoming to Far From Home, mostly due to the need to raise the stakes that ends up with more superhero fightin’ and less nuance and charm. But generally this is an entertaining movie and a good addition to the MCU oeuvre.
Author: Alyssa Cole
Title: An Extraordinary Union Publication Info: New York, NY : Kensington Books,  Summary/Review:
Set in the early days of the American Civil War in Richmond, Virginia, this historical romance tells the story of two spies for the Union working undercover behind enemy lines. Ellen Burns is a freed woman with a photographic memory who disguises herself as a mute slave and is hired out to the estate of a Confederate Senator. Malcolm McCall, a Scottish immigrant, works as a detective for the Pinkertons and poses as a Confederate soldier. Together they uncover a Confederate plot to build an ironclad ship that could break the blockade of Southern ports.
Upon meeting and discovering that they’re working on the same side, the pair find a mutual attraction. Malcolm is more overt in trying to act on that attraction, getting quite rude and handsy, which makes this book uncomfortable. I appreciate that the author clearly will not let Malcolm coast as a “noble abolitionist” but calls out the power and privilege he has as a white man and how that is a threat to Ellen even when he has good intentions. Both characters are well developed and interesting people. Even a major antagonist, a loathsome Southern Belle named Susie McCaffrey, turns out to be more complex than she initially appears.
Of course, Ellen and Malcolm have lots and lots of sex, which I find awkwardly worded, but that may be just me. Nevertheless, this is a well-written and engaging novel touching upon mystery, adventure, history, and social change.
“Malcolm’s mind got muddled with anger thinking of how, in these lands, institutionalized sin was seen as a way of life that needed defending.”