Friday, October 13, 2017

9 - AND COUNTING

The countdown continues!


In 9 months, my Beast will be born! Yes, Beast: A Tale of Love and Revenge hits bookstores on July 10, 2019.


In the meantime, feast your eyes on my Beast of the Month in this gorgeous illustration of Beauty and the Beast by contemporary artist Toshiaki Kato.


Kato does not apparently have a website of his own, but you can see more of his beauteous illustrations here.


His work is featured in an item called Genshin/Japanese Anime Art Book, which is mostly available on eBay. I have no other information about him.

But Holy Moly, what a cool image!

Thursday, October 12, 2017

BEING HUMAN

Life still mysterious is thoughtful sequel Blade Runner 2049

You don't need an encyclopedic knowledge of the original to enjoy this 30-years-later sequel to Ridley Scott's groundbreaking sci-fi epic.

The new movie tells its own story, with a (mostly) new cast of characters, although the main plot thrust was launched in the original.

But there's enough context to make sense to latecomers, while longtime fans will have lots of new fodder for speculation in how it all plays out.

Incoming director Denis Villeneuve (in close collaboration with exec-producer Scott), sticks to the original theme of the first film and the Philip K. Dick story that inspired it: an existential question of the meaning of life when a breed of super-strong, machine-made androids, called "replicants," have been created to serve the master race of humans.

Ir-replicantable: Rutger Hauer in the original
The movie's two-hours and 43-minutes allow plenty of time to brood over the issue of what constitutes "real" life, and it's worth pondering. Yet, respect for the miracle of life itself, expressed with such aching eloquence in the original film, never feels quite as profound here.

We never feel that urgent sense of loss the renegade replicants felt in the first film, battling for their sense of human identity in the face of extinction.

Still, the movie resonates in its own way as its central mystery evolves — especially when LAPD blade runner Ryan Gosling unearths startling evidence that a replicant has given birth.

And it's great to see Harrison Ford revisiting one of his best signature roles. His testy, cynical ex-blade runner, Deckard, plays well against Gosling's smooth aplomb as they become unexpected allies in pursuit of the truth.
(Read more)

Sunday, October 8, 2017

DIG IT

Beloved Santa Cruz artist Beth Gripenstraw's creative energy is so boundless, and her wacky muse so insistent, it's not enough for her to produce her gorgeous, hand-painted ceramic plates, bowls, cups, serving platters, jars, cups and earrings.

She also has to create an entire thematic environment in which to show them off at her Open Studio every year. The theme might be an African safari, or an underwater adventure a la 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

One year, it was my personal favorite, Paris in the 1920s. She even served absinthe!  

This year, her extravagant set-up is an archeological dig in the desert. The front door is transformed into a recently opened Egyptian tomb, guarded by a pair of carved 'stone" big-cat sentinels.

The foyer inside is littered with pots — some strewn about, some reduced to shards, but others vibrantly painted and gloriously intact!

Life-sized camels lounge about the walkway leading to the site, er, studio. And inside — room after room of fabulous pottery, often displayed on giant packing crates, ready to be shipped off to museums worldwide.

A trio of Bedouin women, in elaborate costumes and headdresses keep watch in the dining room display.

Thematic designs this year include dragonflies and scarab beetles, reflecting the artist's background in botanical illustration. These are grouped alongside her ever-popular floral, fish, and animal designs.

For refreshment, there are camel-shaped cookies! (As you can see, below, I ate most of mine before I remembered to photograph it!) For the more adventurous, munch on freeze-dried insects, washed down with a Camel's Milk cocktail.

Every Open Studio is an event at Beth's place! Santa Cruz is lucky to have her.

Souvenirs from the site: security pass, camel shard, and half a cookie!

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

HIGHER GROUND

Intriguing fantasia on King's last hours in SCAT production The Mountaintop

We all know how the story ends. Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. crusader of the civil rights movement, tireless advocate for social justice and racial equality through peaceful protest, inspiration to millions, was shot to death outside his motel room in Memphis, Tennessee, on April 4, 1968.

Those are the facts. But what may or may not have occurred on the night of April 3, Dr. King's last night on earth, is a matter of pure conjecture. That's the challenge taken up in The Mountaintop, the award-winning 2009 drama from Memphis-born playwright Katori Hall receiving its local premiere in an intriguing new Santa Cruz Actors' Theatre production at Center Stage.

A Columbia grad who received her MFA from Harvard, then graduated from the playwriting program at Julliard, Hall has the audacity to imagine King's final hours as a dialogue between the road-weary civil rights leader and a pretty young motel maid on her first day on the job.

Hall surprises the audience with a portrait of King that dares to be both laudatory and iconoclastic, viewing him as more human than saint, while celebrating his profound effect on the fight for freedom and justice for which he finally gave his life.

Wills and Cruse: sassy and subversive

The SCAT production, well-directed by local stage veteran Erik Gandolfi, begins with the civil rights leader returning to his motel room after delivering a speech to the striking sanitation workers he's come to town to support. King (played with energetic presence by Avondina Wills), eager to get to work on the next speech he's writing, has sent his roommate, Ralph Abernathy, out to the corner store to buy a pack of the Pall Malls he's trying to quit smoking.

When he calls room service for a cup of coffee, it's delivered by a starstruck young maid called Camae (sassy and ultimately commanding Sarah Cruse). As luck would have it, she has a couple of Pall Malls in her pocket; he persuades her to have a smoke with him, and they bring out the flirt in each other — even though she has to keep apologizing for swearing in front of a preacher whenever her salty street vocabulary slips out.

The stage seems to be set for debate along gender, class, and political lines. And for awhile, that's how it goes, especially when they discuss the violence of the Black Panthers vs. King's allegiance to peaceful protest. But there's a seismic shift when Camae's true nature and her purpose are suddenly revealed. It's too good a plot twist to give away here, but it gives Hall's play its slyly subversive edge as it ramps up toward its moving conclusion.
(Read more)

Monday, October 2, 2017

NET WORTH

King-Riggs tennis match scores in entertaining Battle of the Sexes

At 29, Billie Jean King was the top-ranked woman tennis player in the world, making waves on the pro circuit by demanding promoters offer women players the same prize money they offered male players.

Bobby Riggs was a 55-year-old former tennis champ, and shameless self-promoting media hustler. When he challenged her to a duel on the tennis court in 1973, the whole world was literally watching.

It was billed as the "Battle of the Sexes," a symbolic milestone in the then-burgeoning women's movement.

And now their match-up comes to the big screen in this thoughtful and entertaining movie about gender, identity, politics, and celebrity at a pivotal cultural moment in American history, written by Simon Beaufoy (Slumdog Millionaire), and directed by Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton (Little Miss Sunshine).

The real Bobby and Billie Jean. Guess who had the muscle?
Emma Stone is poised and terrific as Billie Jean, who starts her own tour with eight other female champions when a smug promoter refuses to pay the women players as much as their male counterparts.

(The other women players are so excited to get their own tour, they each sign on for one dollar.)

The publicity generated by the tour attracts gadfly Bobby (Steve Carell), who, since his heyday in the late 1940s and '50s, has been living off high-profile exhibition matches — and the inherited income of his wealthy wife.

Billie Jean rejects Bobby's first offer. Long-married to her college sweetheart, she's too busy coping with a her sudden, intense attraction to Marilyn Barnett (Andrea Riseborough), here portrayed as a hairdresser who comes on tour with the female pros.

Stone and Carell: match point
But when Bobby starts talking a lot of trash about the male being "the superior animal," Billie Jean instructs her manager-husband, "Call the bozo. Tell him it's on."

Carell plays Bobby with gusto, in all his gross excess, and yet there's unexpected charm in his brash exuberance, vowing to "put the show back in chauvinism!"

A vintage soundtrack keeps the action bubbling along, and clothes and hairstyles replicate the era perfectly.

But despite the hi-jinks, the subject of gender inequality (let alone embracing one's sexual orientation) remains serious throughout — and as pertinent now as ever.
(Read more)

Friday, September 22, 2017

SOMETHING ROTTEN

Look, Ma, I'm on Rotten Tomatoes!

I guess if you do something long enough, somebody is bound to notice.

The busy elves over at RT have uploaded 94(!) of my Good Times reviews from the last couple of years onto the site.

I'm right up there with the big kids from the Chicago Sun Times and New York Magazine (among many others).

I even get my own page, listing all my reviews, with links to the movie pages in question!

This is kind of a cool deal. Color me stoked!

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

ANTICIPATION

Hey, film fans!

Remember that upcoming Guillermo del Toro movie, The Shape Of Water, I was fangirling all over a few posts back? No, I haven't seen it — it comes out December 8 — but the gender-bent Little Mermaid meets The Creature From the Black Lagoon, meets Beauty and the Beast vibe has me drooling in anticipation!

Maestro del Toro calls it a Cold War Fairy Tale!

Well, a new, expanded trailer has just been released. And, naturally, since we're all buds, I thought I'd share it with you.

And speaking of breathless anticipation, what's up with Game of Thrones?

Season 7 ended at the end of August.

But Season 8 — the FINAL SEASON! — isn't scheduled to be broadcast until (gah!) 2019!

Feeling blue? Who isn't?

But cheer up with this reel of on-set Game of Thrones bloopers!

You're welcome!

Friday, September 8, 2017

CERTIFIED FRESH

And to top off a kind of amazing week, I was just invited to join the roster of "Tomatometer-approved" film critics over at Rotten Tomatoes!

This is a big thrill for me. I've loved this site forever!

It's always fun for me, when I've finished writing my own review, to cruise over to RT and see what other critics are saying. Sometimes, my opinion agrees with the majority, but often not.

(Seriously, 92% Fresh for A Ghost Story? What movie did these people see?)

I'm told it may take a couple of weeks for them to start adding my reviews to the site. I'll let you know when I see one!

Thursday, September 7, 2017

IT'S A BOOK!

And the hits keep coming!

So excited get my Advance Reading Copies (ARCs) for BEAST!
It's a book!

Or book-like, anyway. The actual print edition of Beast: A Tale of Love and Revenge, will be in hardcover, due July 10, 2018.

My lovely publicist at Candlewick Press is preparing a list of book-bloggers to send them to.

Let me know of you're interested!

Can't wait to share my Beast with the world!

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

COVER REVEAL!

Hey, folks!

For a while now, the artisan elves over at Candlewick Press have been hard at work on the cover art for Beast: A Tale of Love and Revenge.

And now, at last, I get to share it with you!

Et, voila!

My story takes place in the French countryside, at the dawn of the 17th Century, more than 100 years before the tale we recognize now as Beauty and the Beast was written down in book form (first by Madame de Villeneuve in 1740, then retold by Madame de Beaumont in 1756).

My narrative imagines what the real story might have been behind the familiar fairy tale we all think we know. And the Gothic touches in this image evoke the dark, romantic mood of my story.

I've been extraordinarily lucky in all my cover designs. Just look at those three, cool Alias Hook covers over there to your right:  The US edition from Thomas Dunne Books, the audiobook from Blackstone, and the original UK edition from Snowbooks, a symphony in gold foil-on-black.

This beauteous Beast cover carries on that tradition!

I couldn't be more thrilled! What do you think?