Weekend Boost: Dr. Strange Brings Horror to the Marvel Universe; the TV Show That Could Save Your Relationship; a Brilliant Crime Novel; and Much More
The Best Movies, TV, Music, Books, and Comics May 13-15
Usually, when I finish writing the Weekend Boost I look over my selections and smile because I think they are each delightful, entertaining, or uplifting in their own way. I’m actually excited to be sharing them. It’s like a parent giving a birthday gift and eagerly waiting while the child unwraps it, knowing it’s just what they asked for and they’ll soon be squealing with happiness.
I don’t expect any squealing. But I’m nevertheless always excited to share what I think will bring you pleasure—and sometimes enlightenment.
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness
Directed by Sam Raimi
Written by Michael Waldron
As usual, I will attempt to keep this spoiler-free, which is difficult with Marvel movies because there are so many spoilers gnawing through the internet-verse.
Although this is technically a sequel to Doctor Strange, it really is very different in tone. This one is by design more of a horror movie than the typical Marvel action-adventure. The essence of horror is to present an irrational and pitiless enemy—as in Jaws or Halloween—because everyone’s greatest fear is facing that which can’t be reasoned with.
Director Sam Raimi, who helmed the three Toby Maguire Spider-Man films as well as one of my favorite films, Army of Darkness, knows his way around the Marvel tropes. But he also isn’t afraid to bend and reshuffle them when it produces greater spectacle and more compelling scenes.
The story picks up where the last Spider-Man movie left off, with a fractured multiverse. As I have mentioned in previous posts, I love multiverse and time-travel stories because they offer so many opportunities for exciting surprises. Although Everything Everywhere All at Once was a bit more creative in using the multiverse, I was still consistently entertained by the film’s creative choices. Not only do they give us some fun variations of what Earth would be like in other dimensions, they introduce a lot of familiar characters in new roles. There’s a lot going on and most of it is visually stunning.
Go see it. You’ll be thoroughly entertained.
You know where this is going. I’m going to make an appeal for you to Subscribe, Like, Share, and Comment. You’re going to do it or you’re not. Guess which one I’m hoping for.
Couples Therapy (Showtime)
For those who complain that reality television isn’t Real enough, I suggest you watch Couples Therapy. For those interested in the fragile dynamics of relationships, whether your own or others’, I suggest you watch Couples Therapy. For those who are just nosy voyeurs eager to spy on other people’s trauma, I suggest you watch Couples Therapy.
Couples Therapy just launched its third season this week and once again demonstrates why it is one of the best, most engrossing shows on television. As the title says, the premise is simply having a camera sit-in on various couples’ therapy sessions over a period of time. This allows us to see when there is growth—and when there isn’t. The therapist, Dr. Orna Guralnik, is attentive, insightful, and compassionate. But she isn’t infallible, which we see when she has her own sessions with her therapist.
What makes this show so memorable is how intensely the couples struggle with their issues, sometimes having to face horrid truths about themselves. Most want to nurture their relationships, some don’t (though they aren’t aware of that). The show is a moving tribute to human loyalty and resilience. Every episode is fascinating.
FYI: Rotten Tomatoes gives it 100% on the Tomatometer and 86% Audience Score.
Amaryllis / Belladonna by Mary Halvorson
This two-LP set by guitarist and composer Mary Halvorson, a MacArthur Fellow, is pretty much everything you’d want in contemporary jazz. There’s an etherial beauty in her collaborations with the Mivos Quartet and a joyful spontaneity in the improv among the deft musicians.
The music was conceived and composed during the pandemic so, for me, that sense of fractured life and edgy isolation comes through clearly. But I might be projecting my own experience.
I found her comments about the creative process for the albums very inspiring. She used her time to learn, to grow, to expand her abilities rather than sit on the couch dipping enormous orange-stained fingers into a bag of Cheetos (Don’t judge!). Here’s how she described the process in an interview with jazz critic Nate Chinen: “Really the only writing I ever did for strings before that was the duo I had with Jessica Pavone, the violist. I took lessons with her during the pandemic, to learn how to better write for strings. And I read some orchestration books; it became a big project. I played violin as a child, so I think part of it was connecting back to that. But I was sitting in my room trying to imagine the bowing, even though I can’t play violin anymore. I always loved the challenge of doing something totally new.” That is how I feel about writing.
Not only did she do something new, she created something new. New and wonderful.
Get album here.
City on Fire by Don Winslow
I’m a fan of Don Winslow. I read the entire Neal Carey series and loved each one. I’ve also read half a dozen of his other novels and enjoyed every one. I still have a bunch more on my bookshelf but I jumped ahead to read his new one because I’d read some positive reviews. Turns out, the positive reviews were well deserved.
This is an ambitious book that chronicles the battle between two criminal organizations—one Irish, one Italian—for control of New England. The story of the reluctant mobster Danny Ryan will remind you of Michael in The Godfather; the sections about Las Vegas casinos will remind you of Goodfellas. The taut-as-a-guitar-string prose and terse dialogue reminded me of George V. Higgins (The Friends of Eddie Coyle) while the plot deliberately echoes The Iliad. These comparisons are inevitable given the crime gang setting.
But, like a true artist, Winslow has made the whole greater than the sum of these parts. His take is wholly original and completely satisfying. There are lots of characters and each one is fully developed and compelling. This book reminded me why I have so many Winslow books on my shelf. When I finished reading City on Fire, I immediately reached for one of his other novels that I had previously ignored (The Cartel). And I’m loving that too.
Buy book here.
READ (graphic novel)
Astro City MetroBook, Volume 1
by Kurt Busiek (writer) and Brent Anderson, Will Blyberg, Alex Sinclair
(Plus, really, really amazing cover art by Alex Ross)
Kurt Busiek is one of the most talented writers in comics. Period. The Marvels came out in 1994 and remains one of the best graphic novels ever. Every few years I reread it just to see if it is as good as I remember. It is.
Astro City MetroBook is an anthology of Busiek’s stories that started in 1995 about a city filled with superheroes and supervillains. But the stories are less about super battles in the sky than about the very human aspects of the people—super or not—who live in Astro City. It’s a portrait of the population and their trials and triumphs in a city that prides itself on hope, even when things look hopeless. For me, it’s about America and our unbreakable belief that we will do the right thing, even when we haven’t always before. These stories have won a bunch of Eisner Awards and Harvey Awards—and they deserve the accolades.
Buy book here.