My 2022 Reading Stacks #1

Barry Windsor-Smith Monsters!

Maybe not the best place to start while writing over July 4th weekend…or is it?

Welcome once again to our recurring MCC feature in which I scribble capsule reviews of everything I’ve read that was published in a physical format over a certain page count with a squarebound spine on it — novels, original graphic novels, trade paperbacks, infrequent nonfiction dalliances, and so on. Due to the way I structure my media-consumption time blocks, the list will always feature more graphic novels than works of prose and pure text, though I do try to diversify my literary diet as time and acquisitions permit.

Occasionally I’ll sneak in a contemporary review if I’ve gone out of my way to buy and read something brand new. Every so often I’ll borrow from my wife Anne or from our local library. But the majority of our spotlighted works are presented years after the rest of the world already finished and moved on from them because I’m drawing from my vast unread pile that presently occupies four oversize shelves comprising thirty-three years of uncontrolled book shopping. I’ve occasionally pruned the pile, but as you can imagine, cut out one unread book and three more take its place.

I’ve previously written why I don’t do eBooks. Perhaps someday I’ll also explain why these capsules are exclusive to MCC and not shared on Amazon, Goodreads, or other sites where their authors might prefer I’d share them. In the meantime, here’s me and my reading results, which I should’ve begun tracking months ago…

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Yes, There Are Scenes During and After the “Lightyear” End Credits

Lightyear!

To finity and no farther!

“In 1995 Andy got a new toy for his birthday. It was from his favorite movie. This is that movie.”

That’s paraphrasing (i.e., possibly misquoting from fading memory) the first lines from Lightyear — its high-concept, low-bar mission statement and its disclaimer to deflect any viewers who might’ve refused to relax without some form of canonical context, no matter how tenuous or superfluous. Critics’ memories of the exact verbiage differed from one site to the next. The erstwhile animation trailblazers at Pixar were hoping those same fuzzy memories might forgive/forget the shamelessly unnecessary Toy Story 4 and embrace this, their latest merchandise revival to be contrived from the greatest animated film trilogy ever.

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“Jurassic World: Dominion”: The Locust Job

Jurassic World Dominion cast!

In which the old crews get together for one last heist and take down one last reckless billionaire.

[EDITORS’ NOTE: The following entry knowingly contains minor, non-shocking spoilers.]

Much like the TV show Leverage, the Jurassic series has always been about disrupting high-level corruption in wealthy companies whose prideful execs think they’re too rich and clever to fail. Past Jurassic installments have tackled such hot-button issues as animal rights, eugenics, science ethics, theme park safety protocols, nepotism, big-game hunting for sport, neglectful mishandling of dormant IPs, natural disasters, black-market endangered-species trafficking, and more. Cautionary tales have taught us many important lessons all along, starting with that time Steven Spielberg and co-screenwriter David Koepp brought Michael Crichton’s bestselling screed about corporate accountability to a worldwide audience, some of whom took the Moral of the Story to heart and resolved not to live their lives with the hubris of Dr. John Hammond. Some of the filmmakers who followed in their footsteps paid more attention than others.

This time, much like the Leverage season-4 episode “The Hot Potato Job”, Jurassic World: Dominion turns its journalistic eye toward American agriculture and the manipulative opportunists who dominate the landscape and push out hard-working independent farmers who don’t have the resources to compete with the cutting-edge agritech wielded by richer, amoral hands. It’s to Universal Pictures’ credit that they dared to spend $165 million on a 60 Minutes exposé wrapped in a heist flick, which returning director/co-writer Colin Trevorrow and two co-writers kept intentionally mediocre so that the razzle-dazzle of basic cinematic quality wouldn’t distract from the message.

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Best CDs of 2021 According to an Old Guy Who Bought Five

2021 CD Releases!

Hi, I’m Fat Casey Kasem and welcome to half a Top Ten list!

As part of every annual set of year-in-review entries, I remain one of six people nationwide who still prefers compact discs to digital. I don’t splurge too much because it’s increasingly tougher for new music to catch my ear as I grow older and more finicky, and as my favorite acts of yesteryear die, stop recording, or turn toward musical directions that take them beyond my zones of interest. That usually means missing out on what the majority loves, thus further dragging me down the long plummet into total irrelevance as chronicled on this very website a couple times per week.

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“Downton Abbey: A New Era”: Travels, Talkies, and Other Traumas

Downton Abbey A New Era!

One of our local theaters showed this in Dolby Cinema with perfect picture and volume-17 sound. Oh, how the Dowager Countess would judge them.

They’re back! Lord and Lady Grantham! The Dowager Countess! Lady Mary! Edith! Cousin Isobel! Tom Branson! Mr. and Mrs. Carson! Mr. and Mrs. Bates! Thomas! Mrs. Patmore! Daisy! Andy! Mr. Molesley! Miss Baxter! Mrs. Denker! Bertie! Lord Merton! Lucy! Sybbie! George! Marigold! Lady Rosamund! Mr. Mason! Dr. Clarkson! Mr. Murray! Dolores Umbridge! The ol’ gang’s back together again for Downton Abbey: A New Era, the latest chapter in Julian Fellowes’ beloved historical drama about waning British affluence, surviving well past the six-seasons-and-a-movie threshold for true pop culture immortality.

That’s 29 characters whose original actors returned for this shindig. And yes, I double-checked: three of their tiny offspring have indeed been played by the same moppets since season 5. Triple bonus points if you recognize all 29 without cheating — as I did to peg Lady Violet’s lawyer — but then you’re docked half those points if we catch you complaining that the MCU has gotten just too darn huge to keep track of.

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My Free Comic Book Day 2022 Results, Ranked

Free Comic Book Day 2022!

The reading pile, in random order.

It’s that time of year again, but slightly delayed on my part! Saturday, May 7th was the 21st Free Comic Book Day, that annual celebration when comic shops nationwide offer no-strings-attached goodies as a form of community outreach in honor of that time-honored medium where words and pictures dance in unison on the printed page, whether in the form of super-heroes, monsters, cartoon all-stars, licensed merchandise, or in rare instances real-world protagonists. It’s one of the best holidays ever for hobbyists like me who’ve been comics readers since the days when drugstores sold them for thirty-five cents each and comic book movies were sad, cheapskate abominations.

Each year comic shops lure fans and curious onlookers inside their brick-and-mortar hideaways with a great big batch of free new comics from all the major publishers and a bevy of smaller competitors deserving shelf space and consideration. After the online-only FCBD of 2020 A.P. (Annus Pandemus) and the delayed-gratification post-vaccine FCBD of August 2021, this year’s model returned to the traditional observance on the first weekend in May. Also per tradition, a major comic-book movie was released the same weekend and sucked up an awful lot of my free time that otherwise might’ve been spent reading and then writing-about-reading.

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10 “Picard” Season 2 Follow-Up Thoughts From a Grieving Q Fan

Picard Q Finale!

“See you out there.”

by Anne Golden, MCC Staff.

EDITOR’S NOTE: My wife Anne has contributed to our past ten years’ entries in a variety of ways — photography, ideas, punchlines, caper-partnering, next-day proofreading, encouraging, fact-checking, nitpicking, and so on. She otherwise generally prefers to enjoy the site as a reader rather than as a separately credited blogger. This entry is a special case: she’s MCC’s very first Guest Blogger, though “guest” feels a tad off the mark. Except for light editing and two jokes, these paragraphs are all hers.

Her essay is aimed at fellow Star Trek viewers, whether they love or loathe Patrick Stewart’s further adventures so far, and presumes familiarity with common fan abbreviations for the various shows. And, relevant fun trivia noted previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover, Q is one of her Top 3 Favorite Fictional Characters of All Time. Suffice it to say the season finale struck a nerve. This entry is a rumination attempting to make sense of a tale that frequently didn’t make sense and in some ways still doesn’t. It’s a contemplation. It’s a eulogy. It’s a catharsis.

(Courtesy spoiler warning if you haven’t seen season 2 in general or the finale in particular.)

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Yes, There Are Scenes During and After the “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” End Credits

Dr, Strange 2 IMAX Poster!

We don’t always pay extra for Marvel movie upgrades, but this time…eh, why not.

A coworker of mine was invited to see Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness on opening weekend despite the fact that she’d never watched a single Marvel product in her life. While I chuckled for a few minutes and mentally judged the invitee for his selfish chutzpah, another coworker generally on the same pop-culture page as me graciously tried to recap both the first Doctor Strange and Spider-Man: No Way Home in hopes that it might give her the slightest help before being dragged into the 28th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s kind to show someone how to dog-paddle at least a little before they’re shoved into the deep end of the pool by some dude eagerly looking forward to giving her swimming lessons while she’s drowning. Oh, the gleeful countdown he probably kept in his head for days until that heroic moment when he could point at Benedict Cumberbatch onscreen and proudly, loudly whisper to her, “That’s Doctor Strange!”

Meanwhile, I’m unhelpfully daydreaming how this exchange might’ve been twice as entertaining, but only half as helpful, if at all helpful, if coworker #2 had delivered the recap in the style of Ant-Man’s pal Luis. I am arguably an enabler of the problem here.

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“The Northman” Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Monster

Alexander Skarsgard IS The Northman!

“My name is Amleth War-Raven. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”

It’s just the Dolby Cinema sensory overload talking (ten days later, even), but my favorite thing about The Northman is it may be the closest I ever get to Skyrim: The Motion Picture. Granted, in his painstaking simulation of a savage tenth-century Scandinavia, co-writer/director Robert Eggers has omitted dragons, magic, nonhuman races, skill leveling, heavy armor, and evil demon gods. Such is the movie biz, where compromise is inevitable and was definitely not a Viking invention.

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The Bearable Lightness of “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent”

Unbearable Weight!

…and yet, not a single shout-out to 8MM.

Not counting animated gigs (ranked by quality and in reverse release order: Spider-Verse, The Croods, Astro Boy) the last time I paid to see Nicolas Cage’s distorted face live on a theater screen was 2009’s Knowing, which I’d forgotten existed till just now. I suspect I’m not alone in having given up on Cage’s career after he descended from the ranks of Oscar-winning A-listers to join the Redbox human-running-gag lineup as the easiest possible means to solve his gargantuan tax and debt issues. Once upon a time it would’ve been the second-easiest means, right after “do an A-list film for an A-list paycheck”.

Now that he’s officially announced himself debt-free, the next obvious step is a comeback tour. For me that journey began last year with Pig, such a lovely little heartbreaker of a film that I wish I’d seen it sooner so I could’ve ranked it highly in one of my year-in-review lists. That apparently wasn’t enough to win back the hearts of millions of forsakers, though. Perhaps its sincerity and low violence quotient frightened and confused younger Cage fans who simply assumed he too was battling elder abuse and aphasia. Hence the comeback tour’s Plan B: whimsical self-deprecation.

Thus the face of the dude who might be the new Hardest-Working Man in Showbiz returns to theaters in The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent courtesy of writer/director Tom Gormican (a creator of the short-lived Adam Scott/Craig Robinson misfire Ghosted) and co-writer Kevin Etten (Comedy Central’s Workaholics). Rather than stand aloof while the internet mocks him with every new release, why not lean into the mockery and subvert it from within? Then perhaps we can all laugh together, do some healing, forgive at least twenty of his last three dozen films, and start a useless change.org petition to get National Treasure 3 greenlit.

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