Summer movies

Today’s Gazette had a couple of articles that would interest MonSFFen. There was  a review of the Mummy that was a little more positive than most, and a look at the summer offerings. I’ve copied the movies that looked most appealing to our membership.  The review of the Mummy movie follows.  There are trailers on Youtube, I linked to the most recent ones.

SUMMER MOVIE SAMPLER

We give you the elevator pitches

SONY Young British actor Tom Holland stars in the latest superhero remake in Spider-Man: Homecoming.

Beyond a rebooted (again) webslinger, this summer is lighter than usual on superhero fare. But as usual there are lively animated movies, some crime stories and a few R-rated ladies-night-out parties. Also in the mix are some sequels, remakes, comedies and an epic escape yarn. Release dates are subject to change:

CARS 3 (JUNE 16)

The pitch: Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson) gears up for a new challenge with encouragement from slickster sponsor Mr. Sterling (Canadian Nathan Fillion).

Hit or miss: More animated fun for fans of the anthropomorphic speedy riders.

TRANSFORMERS: THE LAST KNIGHT (JUNE 23)

The pitch: More of the same — meaning another special effects clatter and clash of the robot titans once best known as toys.

Hit or miss: The fifth in the Michael Bay series confirms that nothing succeeds like another international success.

DESPICABLE ME 3 (JUNE 30)

The pitch: Gru (Steve Carell) discovers long-lost brother Dru (also voiced by Carell) as new villain Balthazar Bratt (South Park’s Trey Parker) tries to overshadow Minions everywhere.

Hit or miss: Surrender to the cute.

SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING (JULY 7)

The pitch: Tom Holland impressed with his Spider-Man introduction in Captain America: Civil War. Now he’s a standalone with able assistance from Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.)

Hit or miss: Spidey’s slinging for the fences.

A GHOST STORY (JULY 7)

The pitch: Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara play a couple getting by in a secluded home when spooky things start going bump in the night.

Hit or miss: Most enjoy a good “Boo!”

WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES (JULY 14)

The pitch: As special effects get better, the story veers as Caesar (Andy Serkis) is on a path of revenge. Hit or miss: The appeal continues.

VALERIAN AND THE CITY OF A THOUSAND PLANETS (JULY 21)

The pitch: Based on the French sci-fi comic series Valérian and Laureline, the film version stars Dane DeHaan as Valerian and Cara Delevingne as Laureline. They are operatives trying save the City of a Thousand Planets, and the universe, from a dark force.

Hit or miss: Director Luc Besson happily returns to sci-fi fantasy after the success of 1997’s The Fifth Element.

 THE DARK TOWER (AUG. 4)

The pitch: Stephen King’s horror fantasy makes it to the big screen with Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey surrounded by fancy scare tactics.

Hit or miss: How can it miss?

THE MUMMY’S BAD RAP HAS BEEN UNDESERVED

 Dark Universe saga looks to be off to a solid start

THE MUMMY

★★★ 1/2 out of five Cast: Tom Cruise, Annabelle Wallis, Sofia Boutella, Russell Crowe Director: Alex Kurtzman Duration: 1 h 50 m

UNIVERSAL PICTURES
Sofia Boutella, left, stars with Tom Cruise in The Mummy. As Princess Ahmanet, she has powers others can barely understand, including the ability to learn English and figure out 21st-century technology.

Already, The Mummy is getting a bad rap. As soon as the studio embargo dropped, the critics’ gloves came off: By Thursday morning the score at rottentomatoes.com was 23 per cent and falling.

But I’m here to tell you it’s not all bad. The Mummy is more coherent than Suicide Squad, less grim than Batman v Superman, and easily 16 times better than Fantastic Four.

That may sound like faint praise, but Universal’s first chapter in its so-called Dark Universe franchise of gods and monsters is off to a fair start. Whether it can better the DC or Marvel series remains to be seen.

The movie opens on a dour note, with an ancient prayer of resurrection, followed by a lengthy Egyptology lesson from Russell Crowe, who plays Henry, a doctor with some severe angermanagement issues. Among the information he doles out: Several thousand years ago Princess Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella) made a pact with the god of death and was mummified alive for her troubles. Pay attention: There may be a test later.

Cut (at last!) to the present day, where Nick Morton (Tom Cruise) and Chris Vail (Jake Johnson) are hoping to relieve Iraq of some of her valuable antiquities. There’s more than a little Raiders of the Lost Ark in their escapades — even Brian Tyler’s score nods to it — but if you recall that franchise you’ll realize that Cruise’s character is more Belloq than Indy.

When the lads uncover a mummy, scientist Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis) shows up to study it. But this is where things start to go bad. First, the plane transporting the sarcophagus — “the chick in the box,” according to the decidedly lowbrow Nick — crashes in England.

Nick goes down with the aircraft, mysteriously surviving but suddenly able to see and even converse with Chris’s chatty ghost. In another throwback moment, their interactions have a very American Werewolf in London vibe.

He’s now in a race against time to figure out why he’s still alive, whether Ahmanet has something to do with it, and what she might want from him. Henry, who looks like he might become the Nick Fury of this franchise, has managed to capture the mummy in his underground lair, but she has powers he can barely understand, including a remarkably quick ability to learn English and figure out 21st-century technology.

One of the complaints critics have with The Mummy is that it’s not nearly as terrifying as a monster movie could (or should) be. This is true — there are jump scares and a few scenes of mummies face-sucking the life out of others, but it’s all pretty bloodless. On the plus side, while Cruise continues to do his own falling-aircraft and underwater stunts, at no point does he jump on a motorcycle.

Boutella, meanwhile, is creepy and intense as Princess Ahmanet, with extra irises (don’t call her “four eyes”) and a plethora of facial markings, as if she’d walked into a New Kingdom tattoo parlour and told them to give her the Heliopolis phone book. Though I have to wonder which of The Mummy’s six writers thought it would be a good idea to have Cruise “dump” her with an it’snot-me-it’s-you speech? And wouldn’t a better line have been: “You had me at hello, but you lost me at hell”?

One of those writers is director Alex Kurtzman, whose only previous movie was 2012’s People Like Us, though he does have producing credits on everything from Star Trek to Spider-Man. He manages the pacing of this one nicely, keeping the whole thing down to a manageable hour and 50 minutes so you won’t feel you’ve been buried for millennia.

Mind you, things get a little wonky at the end, when the screenplay scrambles to set up its endless sequels. There’s a quick glimpse of a skull that would seem to suggest the Wolfman, or maybe Dracula, while another character lopes off into the sunset all but promising to return. There may even have been an Invisible Man reference, but I didn’t see it.

And to all those reviewers warning you away, I ask: How are you going to follow this franchise if you don’t sit through the compulsory Mummies 101?

2017 Mythopoeic Awards Finalists

The annual Mythopoeic Awards were first presented at Mythcon II in 1971. They came in two categories: one for fantasy fiction and one for scholarship. In 1992 the categories were increased to four: fiction was split into adult and juvenile categories, and the original scholarship category in Inklings studies was joined by one for general myth and fantasy studies, reflecting the broadening basis of Society scholarship. Fiction awards go to a work published during the previous year that best exemplifies “the spirit of the Inklings”. The scholarship awards go to books published in the previous three years. Each year the Awards are chosen by volunteer juries of Society members, then announced and presented in a ceremony at the Mythcon banquet. The actual award is a reproduction of one of the lion statues that rest outside the entrance of the New York Public Library. Inevitably, it became known as the “Aslan.”

The Mythopoeic Society has announced the finalists for the 2017 Mythopoeic Awards.

Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Adult Literature

  • Andrea Hairston, Will Do Magic For Small Change (Aqueduct Press, 2016)
  • Mary Robinette Kowal, Ghost Talkers (Tor, 2016)
  • Patricia A. McKillip, Kingfisher (Ace, 2016)
  • Maggie Stiefvater, The Raven Cycle: The Raven Boys (Scholastic, 2012); The Dream Thieves (Scholastic, 2013); Blue Lily, Lily Blue (Scholastic, 2014); and The Raven King (Scholastic, 2016)
  • Jo Walton, Thessaly Trilogy: The Just City (Tor, 2015); The Philosopher Kings (Tor, 2015); Necessity (Tor, 2016)

Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Children’s Literature

  • Adam Gidwitz, The Inquisitor’s Tale: Or, The Three Magical Children and their Holy Dog (Dutton, 2016)
  • S. E. Grove, The Mapmakers Trilogy: The Class Sentence (Viking 2014); The Golden Specific (Viking, 2015); The Crimson Skew (Viking, 2015)
  • Bridget Hodder, The Rat Prince (Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, 2016)
  • Grace Lin, When the Sea Turned to Silver (Little, Brown, 2016)
  • Delia Sherman, The Evil Wizard Smallbone (Candlewick, 2016)

Mythopoeic Scholarship Award in Inklings Studies

  • Lisa Coutras, Tolkien’s Theology of Beauty: Majesty, Splendor, and Transcendence in Middle Earth (Palgrave-Macmillan, 2016)
  • Sørina Higgins, ed. The Chapel of the Thorn by Charles Williams (Apocryphile Press, 2015)
  • Leslie Donovan, ed. Approaches to Teaching Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and Other Works (Modern Language Association, 2015)
  • Christopher Tolkien, ed. Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary, together with Sellic Spell by J.R.R. Tolkien (Houghton Mifflin, 2014)
  • Philip Zaleski and Carol Zaleski, The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Owen Barfield, Charles Williams (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2015)

Mythopoeic Scholarship Award in Myth and Fantasy Studies

  • Aisling Byrne, Otherworlds: Fantasy and History in Medieval Literature (Oxford University Press, 2015)
  • Richard Firth Green, Elf Queens and Holy Friars: Fairy Beliefs and the Medieval Church (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016)
  • Michael Levy and Farah Mendlesohn, Children’s Fantasy Literature: An Introduction (Cambridge University Press, 2016)
  • Gabrielle Lissauer, The Tropes of Fantasy Fiction (McFarland, 2015)
  • Jack Zipes, Grimm Legacies: The Magic Spell of the Grimms’ Folk and Fairy Tales (Princeton University Press, 2014)

The Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Adult Literature is given to the fantasy novel, multi-volume, or single-author story collection for adults that best exemplifies the spirit of the Inklings. Books are eligible for two years after publication if not selected as a finalist during the first year of eligibility.

The Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Children’s Literature honors books for beginning readers to age thirteen, in the tradition of The Hobbit or The Chronicles of Narnia. Rules for eligibility are otherwise the same as for the Adult literature award.

The Mythopoeic Scholarship Award in Inklings Studies is given to books on Tolkien, Lewis, and/or Williams that make significant contributions to Inklings scholarship. For this award, books first published during the last three years are eligible, including finalists for previous years. The Mythopoeic Scholarship Award in Myth and Fantasy Studies is given to scholarly books on other specific authors in the Inklings tradition, or to more general works on the genres of myth and fantasy. The period of eligibility is three years, as for the Inklings Studies award.

The winners will be announced during Mythcon 48, to be held from July 28-31, 2017.