Archives for category: movie critic

Reviews of movies we viewed for Mom’s birthday party on this past Monday: “Stan and Ollie”. You DO have to be passingly familiar with Laurel and Hardy movies from the 1930s to fully appreciate the film, which I’m not and Tom is. There are moments of humor—they’re really like their slapstick movies in real life—but ultimately it’s a sad story. In their heyday, when they were the most popular comedians in the movies, they didn’t get paid well by their producer, didn’t get paid at all for reruns, and therefore were perpetually financially strapped. As we meet Stan and Ollie in the present story, it’s 1953 and they’re desperately doing a tour of England to raise interest in a prospective new movie, which a producer is attempting to finance. For viewers interested in the subject matter. Not a bad movie, but not particularly uplifting, either.
Downsizing” starts with a high-concept SFnal premise: technology has been perfected to shrink people to six inches tall. Why would they do this? Being six inches tall stretches your dollar a thousand times so that the $150,000 equity the protagonist (played by Matt Damon) has in his over-mortgaged house becomes worth $12 million in the community of “small people” where he plans to relocate. The story should have stayed focused on all the complications becoming irreversibly ”small” would entail. Instead the story veers off in odd directions and strays from the premise so much that this viewer had trouble remembering the benefits and limitations of becoming small and how the Big World interacted with them. Sadly, only for the curious. I was disappointed.
Yesterday”, on the other hand, is a delightful high fantasy concept that stays true to its premise until the very end. A talented but failing young musician is hit by a bus (literally) when the entire Earth goes dark for two seconds. (I don’t mind a good deus ex machina; I’ve even used a few DEMs in my books and stories.) He awakens in a world subtly changed. The first change he discovers is that no one knows who the Beatles are, knows their music, and only he can remember the melodies and the lyrics. When the realization dawns on him, he does what any sensible person would do. He runs home to his computer and googles “The Beatles,” only to keep getting pages listing insects.
The premise raises in this viewer the question of social context: how would Beatles’ songs fare in a world without Beatles? There a scene near the beginning in which our musician sits down at a piano (he also plays guitar) in his parents’ living room. The parents, deeply skeptical of his creative aspirations, listen as he expertly starts the opening chords and begins to sing “Let It Be.” Before he’s gotten through the first line, the doorbell rings, an equally skeptical neighbor comes in and sits down, the musician starts again, the neighbor’s cell phone chimes. And so on and on. He never does get past the first line. The scene is meant to be humorous, a send-up of how distracted we are these days and also that context thing—will anyone ever listen to the musician even though he’s singing “Let It Be”?—but I wanted to reach through the screen and smash everyone’s freaking phone.
In sum, “Yesterday” is a very enjoyable film and recommended for light entertainment. I wanted to see the copyright permissions on the Beatles’ songs (got it—who holds the rights now—I have my own reasons for finding out) and so kept the film on through the screen credits at the end. Huge bonus—over the end credits, they play Paul McCartney singing “Hey Jude.” Well worth the wait even if you’re uninterested in the copyright permissions.
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Call me a fan girl and an SF geek, but I loved the Marvel Studios film, “Captain Marvel” (CM). This delightful film is the most woman-centric comics piece I’ve seen since “Wonder Woman” with the wonderful Gal Godot, who was born for the part. I truly hope she isn’t typecast for the rest of her career but that’s a risk actors take when they sign up to be a superhero.
While WW has more of an ethereal superhero plot, CM has the most personal storyline I’ve seen in quite a while in a comics film (caveat: I haven’t seen them all, but quite a few), exploring, as its central themes, the empowerment of women, friendship between women, and warm relations between black and white folks. My favorite themes in fiction and my own fiction (especially my novel, Summer of Love). The main character’s personal journey of discovering her true self, discovering her personal empowerment dovetails well with the greater plot.
Brie Larson is terrific as the lead, Carol Danvers. She captures the unruly emotions of her character, is funny, tender, and kick-ass deadly when she needs to be. Samuel Jackson, as Shield Agent Fury, is adorable (if digitally “anti-aged”), and there’s an even more adorable ginger tabby cat (a nod to “Alien”).
The story was created by a woman and a man, the screenplay written by the same woman, the same man, and an additional woman, and the film was directed by the woman story-screenplay writer and the man. No wonder it’s so good. Woman power is bred in its bones.
The screenplay is practically a perfect textbook example of what you should accomplish in your screenplay. (Note: you want to sell your screenplay, not a shooting script, which is a much different entity.) After the first screening, to acquaint me with the content, I sat through a second screening with a stopwatch and a notepad and pencil to take notes. I’m presently working on a screenplay adapting my print story that I sold to a major studio and needed some guidance and inspiration.
The rules about three-act structure aren’t arbitrary; they work to present the viewer (or reader) with a dynamic creation that carries you from start to finish. I’ve observed many effective books and stories that consciously (or unconsciously) follow the three-act structure. When I analyze my own work, stories and books, I see that I’ve consciously (or unconsciously) written often according to that structure.
A bonus: after the usual montage of Marvel Comics heroes, we see a 60-second montage of the cameos of Stan Lee in films, followed by a black page with red lettering THANK YOU STAN, and one final shot of his joyfully smiling face. As a young man, Lee started writing and drawing comic books around World War II. The comics industry had its ups and downs, publishers went out of business, but Lee persisted to create the powerhouse that is today Marvel Studios. His hilarious cameos in the films were always something to anticipate (like spotting Alfred Hitchcock in his movies). Lee died at age 95 last year. Sure enough, Stan makes a cameo in CM but I don’t know if it’s digital or was filmed before he died.
Now then: in Act One we open with Carol, known only as “Vers”, is beset by scattered disturbing dreams that seem to indicate an unknown life she had. This is always a tricky proposition to portray. The viewer has to pay attention, but attention is rewarded throughout the film, as we revisit the dreams—her fragmentary memories of a mysteriously lost life—in Act Two and Act Three and by the end make total sense of them.
Vers finds herself on HALA, the high-tech home planet of the Kree (a nod to “Forbidden Planet” and the high-tech Krell). The high-tech city, with dynamic images scrolling across the sides of buildings, is reminiscent of the futuristic Los Angeles in “Bladerunner.”
She is in training to “become the best she can be,” according to her mentor (played by Jude Law) as soldier in an on-going war fought by the Kree. She reports in to the Supreme Intelligence—an A.I. who rules the Kree and who appears as a woman. Vers’s problem is that she’s too emotional, too ready to laugh.
The Supreme Intelligence tells her “to serve well and with strength,” which is reminiscent of the oath in “Gladiator”, “Strength and honor,” and sure enough in the next scene, the African hunter from “Gladiator” appears as a member of a Kree military team.
She’s sent on a mission with the Kree team, there’s fighting (the writer-director is wise enough not to let any of the fight scenes go on too long—a problem for me in many comics films) with an alien race, the Skroll, whose appearance strongly resembles certain beloved aliens in “Star Trek”.
The Skroll capture Vers and probe her mind—more of those fragmentary memories emerge, including a woman who was once her mentor (the Supreme Intelligence takes the mentor’s appearance) and her best friend, a young black woman training to be a fighter jet pilot with Vers.
Then, at twenty minutes almost to the second, there’s a huge plot point that marks the end of Act One and spins the story around in a totally different direction.
Vers finds herself on C 53, Earth, Los Angeles in 1995. She crashes through the roof of a Blockbuster Video, curiously picks up a video of “The Right Stuff,” blasts off the head of a cardboard Arnold Schwarzenegger display, and searches for communication equipment from a nearby Radio Shack so she can contact her mentor back in the Kree universe. This is a humorous nod to “2001: A Space Odyssey,” with Pan Am as the brand on the space shuttle taking people from Earth to the Moon. The screenwriters of “2001” didn’t know the brand not only wouldn’t last until what was then the far future, Pan Am didn’t last past the 1970s. Blockbuster and Radio Shack, which seemed like indestructible brands in 1995, similarly didn’t last past the 2000s. So we viewers got a laugh out of that.
Enter Shield Agent Fury, Sam Jackson, in a scene reminiscent of “Men in Black”. Complications ensue. Certain personal details about Fury and Vers are skillfully revealed and then pay off a little later in plot points. I love it when writers pay off a setup and I become very annoyed when a setup doesn’t go anywhere.
CM also pokes fun at what appears to us now as clunky computer tech in 1995 (Carol awkwardly pecks with two fingers at a keyboard). There’s a fight between Vers and an alien enemy (the Skroll can shapeshift, taking on the appearance of whomever they see) atop a subway train reminiscent of “Indiana Jones.”
Act Two continues for fifty-five minutes with more complications circling around the storyline. There’s a midpoint at twenty minutes into Act Two. The script doctor, Linda Seger, is a big believer in the midpoint of a screenplay as a restatement of the overall themes. In CM, the two lead characters, seeking Carol’s long-lost best friend, travel in a futuristic jet plane from Los Angeles (L.A.) to Louisiana, (La.) where the friend lives. (“L.A.” to “La”—that’s a nice touch.) Vers is “going home” to her friend who has an appealing and intelligent young daughter, so we get some mother-daughter development. The personal relationships and Carol’s story of personal discovery, her personal empowerment are ramped up.
Then at fifty-five minutes, a HUGE mind-boggling plot point spins the story into a totally different direction, signaling the end of Act Two. I am NOT going to spoil the plot at this point, but my fedora is tipped at the screenwriters for a superb, memorable plot twist.
Act Three then lasts forty minutes, which is a bit long. But because of the HUGE plot twist, the writers have to re-establish certain back-stories and the forward momentum of the overall plot. Be assured the pace never flags. There are more fight scenes with multiple characters (as in all the comics films) and plenty of video-gamish space jets chasing and shooting at each other like in Star Wars. Because of the length, the writers cleverly slip in a hilarious midpoint twenty minutes into Act Three. (Okay, plot spoiler alert: the adorable cat isn’t really a cat.)
The conclusion for Carol, reinforcing her friendship with her best friend and her daughter, and for Agent Fury are fully satisfying (and the cat makes one last adorable cameo) and yet open the door to more of Captain Marvel. Indeed, a coda notes she will continue in “Avengers: Endgame”. We look forward to the film and intend to see it for Tom’s birthday in December, if the film is out on DVD.
With Captain Marvel by itself, though, a great time was had by all. If you don’t catch the film allusions (I probably missed many more), that’s okay. The film stands firmly by itself. Recommended.
Join my Patreon page at https://www.patreon.com/bePatron?u=23011206 and support me while I recover from the Attack. My first story “Arachne”, my first story published in OMNI magazine, appears exclusively there, plus a forthcoming account of how I published my first story in the premiere story venue at the time and the research I did. This review plus other movie reviews, and a couple of recipes with more forthcoming. Give back!
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Visit me at www.lisamason.com for all my books, ebooks, stories, and screenplays, worldwide links, covers, reviews, interviews, blogs, round-tables, adorable cat pictures, forthcoming works, fine art and bespoke jewelry by my husband Tom Robinson, and more!

All Is True” has a glacierly slow beginning but a painterly cinematography of Stratford-on-Avon, an idyllic village far from London. This was William Shakespeare’s home town and where he married, raised a family, and built a substantial brick-and-stone house on a lovely plot of land. He was also seldom at home, having gone off to London, written a body of work—plays and sonnets—praised in his own time as the greatest poetry ever written, earned good money from his genius, and managed the complex business of the Globe Theater where his plays were performed.
When a stage prop malfunctioned and burned the Globe Theater to the ground, Shakespeare, now middle-aged verging on old, returned to Stratford-on-Avon, to his family and house, and never wrote again.
(Plot spoiler: EVERYone back home is pissed off at WS when he went off to London and became a famous playwright.)
This film tells of that time and is a sad revelation of Shakespeare’s last years, of the tragedies and scandals which befell his family and his confrontation of them.
There are points of wit, as you would expect of a film about Shakespeare. A fan, a young man, approaches WS as he is laboriously digging a garden, and asks him about writing. WS snaps, “You become a writer by writing.” But the fan insists, where do your ideas come from? WS replies from his imagination. When the fan persists, WS says, “Cherrio. Cherrio.” And in a conversation with a friend, WS says, “I never let the truth get in the way of a good story.”
There’s even a ghost story, as appropriate for Shakespeare.
If you enjoy an intimate character study, with tear-jerkers along the way, and an ultimately redemptive ending, “All Is True” is for you.
A bonus feature of getting the DVD: This is a Sony Classic Picture, and half a dozen interesting small films are pitched in the preview: “Stan and Ollie”, which husband Tom wanted to see and I didn’t so much (I’ve never cared for old-timey black-and-white slapstick), but the preview made me laugh, so that’s a Go. Films about the first all-women crew to sail a sailboat around the world in a competition, a film about Oscar Wilde, a film about underground artists in Nazi Germany, and more. I wrote the titles down for future reference.
Join my Patreon page at https://www.patreon.com/bePatron?u=23011206  and help support me after the Attack. I’ve just posted “Arachne”, my FIRST story published in OMNI magazine, the premiere fiction venue at the time. Upcoming in a few days, a blog about how I got my first story published in OMNI, inspiration, influences, and research, plus the October Writing Tip, how to expand a novelette into a novel.
Visit me at www.lisamason.com for all my books, ebooks, stories, and screenplays, worldwide links, covers, reviews, interviews, blogs, round-tables, adorable cat pictures, forthcoming works, fine art and bespoke jewelry by my husband Tom Robinson, and more!

Movie Night Extravaganza, reviewed in reverse order of when we viewed them. Why? Because I will have more to say about the first film we viewed than the others following.
Masterpiece Theater’s “The Virgin Queen: Elizabeth I” was good for three hours. There were no radical deviations from the history, unlike BBC’s TV series “The Tudors” about Henry VIII and Hilary Mantel’s Booker Prize winning Wolf Hall, which each wildly differ on many points of history and characterizations.
“EI”, the series starts at Elizabeth’s imprisonment in the Tower by her half-sister, Queen Mary, and goes all the way to her death. “Elizabeth” with Cate Blanchett covers that same starting point but only up to her historic announcement about her marriage. (“I am married to England.”)
I didn’t need to know more than that, really, and Blanchett is easier to look at than Anne-Marie Duff. In fact, Blanchett looks remarkably more like the historic person from what I can see on EI’s Wikipedia page. Duff had a huge role, though, and was up to it.
So my history about Elizabeth I is substantially complete.
Minor quibble: throughout the series Duff’s voice sounds like a young woman. Oh, she shouts and rouses the rabble but when she speaks privately she sounds young even when she’s depicted as middle-aged and as very old. Duff, I’m sure, would have been up to the task of modulating her voice to sound old. I suppose that was the director’s decision. Or maybe EI’s voice sounded youthful and melodic even when she was old.
And now I’m giving sixteenth century British history a rest for a while. A long, long while.
Next up: “All Is True” and “Captain Marvel”.
Join my Patreon page at https://www.patreon.com/bePatron?u=23011206  and help support me after the Attack. I’ve just posted “Arachne”, my FIRST story published in OMNI magazine, the premiere fiction venue at the time. Upcoming in a few days, a blog about how I got my first story published in OMNI, inspiration, influences, and research, plus the October Writing Tip, how to expand a novelette into a novel.
Visit me at www.lisamason.com for all my books, ebooks, stories, and screenplays, worldwide links, covers, reviews, interviews, blogs, round-tables, adorable cat pictures, forthcoming works, fine art and bespoke jewelry by my husband Tom Robinson, and more!

10.18.17.3.ATHENA.IN.BOX_NEW

About Me
I’ve published eleven novels including Summer of Love, a Philip K. Dick Award Finalist and San Francisco Recommended Book of the Year, The Gilded Age, a New York Times Notable Book and a New York Public Library Recommended Book, a collection of previously published fiction, Strange Ladies: 7 Stories, three screenplays, and forty stories and novellas in magazines and anthologies worldwide. My Omni story, “Tomorrow’s Child”, sold outright as a feature film in 2001 to Universal Pictures. But that sale occurred eighteen years ago. Will the movie ever happen? Who knows? I’m working on a new screenplay for it.
I live in the San Francisco Bay area with my artist husband, Tom Robinson, and our Siamese-Angora cat (a breed otherwise known as a rag doll). Athena.
CHROME is my new speculative fiction novel.
Why Patreon?
Books take me years to research and write. Stories, even, may take months. If I try to rush, the result never comes out good.
I wish I could have written hundreds of books and stories like some other authors. But I can’t. I have too much respect for you, the reader, and for the work itself. The work is my legacy. The work will last long after I’m gone.
When a writer sells a book to a traditional publisher, typically that writer signs up for a modest advance against which a miniscule percentage of earnings are charged before the publisher pays out a royalty—every six months. When a writer, rebelling against the System as so many traditionally published writers have, goes to publish independently, there’s a huge personal investment in production, distribution, and promotion.
But I’m not on Patreon to complain that the lives of writers and artists is difficult. You can read such complaints anywhere. And they’re legitimate complaints—that’s why Patreon exists.
No, I’m on Patreon because something terrible and unexpected happened to me.
On July 11, 2018, I was walking around Lake Merritt on a sunny afternoon, with the dog-walkers, the moms and baby strollers, the bicyclists and joggers, as I’ve done virtually every day since 1996—rain or shine, hot or cold, summer or winter, three and a half miles—when a man jumped out of the bushes and confronted me on the sidewalk.
He tried to beat me up, I fended him off, then he shoved me into two lanes of oncoming traffic on the street. To avoid plunging into the traffic, I backpedaled with my feet, and fell on the concrete curb.
The police apprehended him after he assaulted several other people around lake. From the back of an ambulance, I identified him.
Then I went off in the ambulance to a big urban hospital where I underwent three hours of surgery under general anesthetic for a fractured hip and a broken thigh.
Now it’s a year later and I can’t walk like I did before. Half a mile to the market and back takes nearly an hour. I can’t walk three miles daily to my publishing office, where I earned a good salary. I can no longer walk around the lake, which I miss terribly. The Attack has inflicted me—a former ballet dancer, a swimmer, and an athlete—with a partial disability, daily pain, a nasty limp, and nastier scars. Other health complications may be ensuing.
That’s why Patreon.
I’m prepared to give you, my wonderful Patrons, in exchange for your Sustenance, my best efforts on a monthly basis.
For the September 2019 Tier One, Essential Sustenance, I posted a tribute to my late friend and Japanese translator, Yoshio Kobayashi, my recipe for California Spicy Rice, and my movie review of “Can You Ever Forgive Me?
For Tier Two, Vital Sustenance, I posted a delightful urban fantasy, “Crawl Space,” a spin-off story from my novel, The Garden of Abracadabra, an Introduction to the story, and Afterword about the extensive research I undertook for this 4,000-word story, and the September Writer’s Tip about inadvertent repetition in your writing. (August 2019 was a lovely cat fantasy, “Crazy Chimera Lady.”)
On Tier Three, Necessary Sustenance, I posted Excerpt 2 from my new SF novel, CHROME. (August 2019 was Excerpt 1.) Also I posted to the public the first five-star review.
I’m making changes to Tier Four, Nutritious Sustenance, and adding Tier Five, Delicious Sustenance. I’ll tell you about that tomorrow or the next day.
Join my Patreon page at https://www.patreon.com/bePatron?u=23011206 and support me while I recover from the Attack. I’ve got lots of goodies for you there with more on the way.
Donate from your PayPal account to lisasmason@aol.com. Even a tiny tip will help!
Visit me at www.lisamason.com for all my books, ebooks, stories, and screenplays, worldwide links, covers, reviews, interviews, blogs, round-tables, adorable cat pictures, forthcoming works, fine art and bespoke jewelry by my husband Tom Robinson, and more!

The September 2019 Movie Review
“Can You Ever Forgive Me?”
This film was justifiably nominated for the Oscar in several categories and won the Golden Globe. Melissa McCarthy, in a heartfelt and acerbic performance, plays Lee Isreal, a one-time best-selling biographer down on her luck who stumbles on how to earn income to keep her New York City apartment and treat her beloved sick cat after she loses her job. (BTW, I’ve seen the NYC apartments of successful employed people; in the film, Isreal has a nice apartment.)
But story starts out following her humiliation, all too real, as a failed writer.
She goes to a posh party held at her literary agent’s very fancy apartment, overhears a successful author pontificating to a crowd of admirers, helps herself to the deluxe food, and steals a coat from the cloakroom.
Later, she goes to the agent’s very fancy office and pleads for a $10,000 spec sale of a new biography she’s researching. She says in a strangled voice, “I mean, I was on the New York Times Bestseller list once. Doesn’t that count for something?”
The literary agent replies, “I can’t get ten dollars for you.”
Ouch. Meanwhile, she owes the veterinarian money, so he won’t see her sick cat, let alone prescribe needed medicine.
Melissa McCarthy isn’t afraid of appearing fat and ugly. And desperate.
For the rest of The September Review of “Can You Ever Forgive Me?”, join Tier One of my Patreon page at https://www.patreon.com/bePatron?u=23011206.
Donate from your PayPal account to lisasmason@aol.com.
Visit me at www.lisamason.com for all my books, ebooks, stories, and screenplays, reviews, interviews, blogs, roundtables, adorable cat pictures, forthcoming works, fine art and bespoke jewelry by my husband Tom Robinson, worldwide links, and more!