Archives for posts with tag: movie critic

We’re mildly disappointed in “Avengers: Endgame.” At over three hours, the film is a mishmash of numerous superhero Marvel universes. The producers have actually taken out a full-page ad in The Hollywood Reporter tauting the film’s “seamless weaving of several storylines.) And I *like* complex films (and books and stories) with several storylines interwoven.
But A:E presupposes fluency in the *all* the characters and universes brought into play. That’s not us. We’ve seen a number of Marvel movies, but by no means all. And even with fluency, the over-all story is slow, full of unexpected sadness, and laborious, culminating in a violent blow-out battle typical of all Marvel films. Only combining all those characters and universes like a stew made of leftovers.
The result is dissatisfyingly unfocused and diffuse. And they take a full hour to get around to their (plot spoiler alert) time machine! Sheesh. I nail down my time machine on the first page of Chapter 2 of Summer of Love and on the first page of Chapter 1 of The Gilded Age, both of those chapters told from the point-of-view of the respective time travelers.
Mostly for diehard Marvel fans, though reasonably entertaining.
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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.
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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”.
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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.
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