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.
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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.)
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.
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.
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.
Look, 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.
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.
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.