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America's Sweetheart: Thoughts on WandaVision

I. The Show WandaVision , Disney+'s strange, engrossing, fitfully effective sitcom parody turned superhero slapfight, which wrapped up its nine-episode run last weekend, begins with what can only be described as an impressive commitment to the bit. As the show opens, Wanda Maximoff, last seen going toe-to-toe with Thanos in the grand battle at the end of Avengers: Endgame , and Vision, last seen being killed by Wanda in a last-ditch attempt to prevent Thanos from disappearing half the life in the universe at the end of Aveners: Infinity War (a death that was then undone by Thanos, who proceeded to kill Vision himself while securing the infinity stone that allowed him to perform the aforementioned disappearing act), are a newlywed couple moving into a charming suburban home in Westview, New Jersey. Except the whole thing is in black and white and in a 4:3 aspect ratio, the costumes and decor are from the 1950s, and there's a laugh track. In other words, it's a classic sitco

Recent Movie Roundup 35

Would you believe I haven't done one of these posts since December 2019? Well, of course you'd believe it, because 2020 was what it was, and I personally haven't been in a movie theater since last February, and have no expectation of seeing the inside of one for some time. Not that I haven't seen movies during the last year (or even reviewed them ). But something about cueing up Netflix for the evening just doesn't stir the critical juices the way sitting in a movie theater does. Still, there have been some excellent movies this year, especially when it comes to genre fare—I'm thinking, in particular, of the 2021 Best Dramatic Presentation: Long Form category, which is suddenly wide open. Several of the movies discussed below are ones that I wouldn't mind seeing on the shortlist. The Vast of Night - Writer-director Andrew Patterson's debut feature is a nostalgia exercise on several different levels. For one thing, it's a period piece, set in small

2020, A Year in Reading: Best Books of the Year

I read 81 books in 2020. That's almost exactly the same number of books I read in 2019, which feels a little surprising. You'd expect 2020, a year of lockdowns, shuttered entertainment venues, and quarantines to result in a lot more reading. And conversely, you'd expect 2020, a year of worries about health, politics, and the environment, to leave one too stressed to focus on a book. And yet, on paper, my reading doesn't seem to have changed at all. That's looking at the numbers, though. When I sat down to review my year's reading lists in preparation for writing this post, what I realized was how few of the books I read this year had stayed with me. For many of them, I have vague recollections of enjoying them, but would have struggled to say anything more meaningful. I read the normal amount of books in 2020, but didn't seem to have the mental energies to retain much from them. (This is probably also the reason that my TV viewing saw a huge explosion in 202

Recent Reading Roundup 53

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The end of the year will soon be upon us, which means it's almost time to sum up the year's reading. Before I do that, though, here are some reviews of books I read in the second half of the year. Also book-related: over at Lawyers, Guns & Money , I wrote about the miniseries The Good Lord Bird , and since I was able to track down a copy of the James McBride novel on which it was based at a used bookstore shortly before the miniseries ended, I added some comments about the book as well. Short version: both are recommended, though mainly for the window they offer on the fascinating, contradictory figure of John Brown. Chosen Spirits by Samit Basu - In his afterword to this novel, Basu describes it as an "anti-dystopia". That's a bit of hard pill to swallow if you've just finished reading Chosen Spirits , which opens with its heroine, twenty-five-year-old Joey, frantically trying to keep her middle-aged parents from thoughtlessly handing out their data to