One of the paradoxes of Philip K. Dick’s career is that he wrote his most robust and mature observations about human behavior at the sputtering start of his career, with none of those nine books from 1950-60 being immediately published. Then he tried his hand at pulp SF and got good at it. But writing about the human condition in 1950s California under American societal morals of the time was arguably his natural calling.
It takes some getting used to, I admit, but eventually I got on a roll with Nina the Vampire Slayer in Kiersten White’s second Buffyverse novel, “Chosen” (January, hardcover). I should’ve braced myself for it after having read last year’s “Slayer,” but first-person present-tense writing is unusual enough that it’s still like getting a bucket of cold water to the face when you crack the book open.
These were my 10 favorite movies of 2019, a year when superheroes continued to dominate but when we also got prime slices of action, comedy and history – plus one of the most masterfully haunting horror films in a long while:
The Knight Before Christmas” (November, Netflix), like most of TV’s recent holiday movie catalog, is so uninspired that I wonder if the sets, locations, casting and costumes come first. Then an exec assigns a writer — Cara J. Russell in this case – to churn out a screenplay with the boardroom-approved punny title and then they go from there.
Let It Snow” (November, Netflix) comes from a 2008 novel co-written by coming-of-age chronicler John Green. It’s adapted by Kay Cannon (“Pitch Perfect”) and two other writers for this who’s-who of Gen Z actors. Although I only recognized Kiernan Shipka (“Chilling Adventures of Sabrina”) and Jacob Batalon (the best bud in the MCU’s “Spider-Mans”), the talent level is surprisingly high. Down the road, “Let It Snow” could play as a classic of young actors breaking out, except that the overall movie is too safe and predictable.
Superman II” (1981) has always been a beloved film, but when an alternate version came out in 2006, it became even more beloved. The theatrical Richard Lester Cut rates a 6.8 on IMDB and the newer Richard Donner Cut rates a 7.7. That’s not a trivial gap. But in my opinion the difference in quality between the two films is minor, and upon a close analysis, I’d argue the Lester Cut is slightly superior.
Ilove the way Javed (Viveik Kalra) loves Bruce Springsteen in “Blinded by the Light.” The Pakistani-British youth sings and dances in the street once he gets the Boss bug. He smiles when listening to the lyrics. He writes about the Boss for his school paper. He wins an essay contest and a trip to America by waxing poetic about Springsteen.
Thanksgiving plays a small role in “The Vicious Kind” (2009). There’s a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it turkey dinner, and one character sleeps through the holiday. But the fall Connecticut setting is prevalent and it’s ultimately a sweet-and-sour indie film about family, making it a good (if not always good-natured) under-the-radar Turkey Day pick.
Although “Big Mouth” Season 3 (October, Netflix) ultimately delivers enough good episodes that I give it a soft recommend, it is a clear step back from its first two seasons. In the worst episodes, the writers get so caught up in their timely messages about sexual identity, dress codes and objectification of women that they forget to make those episodes funny.
After Melinda Metz’s 10-book YA series “Roswell High” (1998-2000) handed the baton to the TV series “Roswell” in 1999, Jason Katims and his writing team took the teens in a different direction from the books. So when the book line returned in May 2001 with Greg Cox’s “Loose Ends,” it was of course a tie-in with the TV series. Written as Season 2 was airing, and hitting bookshelves during the season’s homestretch (which is also when it takes place), “Loose Ends” became the first of 11 novels that fill in gaps and ultimately take the story beyond the end of the TV series.