What the Stars Read

Do you ever wonder what the movie and TV stars read?

After too long a break, I traveled once again to a multi-media convention in the Baltimore area as both a panelist and guest, giving me unique opportunities to learn about books, movies, television, actors, and other forms of popular media.

Among the topics discussed were the interactions of cyberpunk (tech-heavy stories) and the modern world, stories that cross genres and copyright laws (Is there anyone Scooby Doo didn’t meet? Why is there a Terminator in Wayne’s World?), trends in speculative fiction (Lunarpunk, anyone?), and more. And those were only the ones I was able to attend.

The best part of such gatherings is meeting the guests of honor. Guests can change at any time due to filming schedules or illness (Robert Duncan McNeill was replaced at the last second by John Billingsley, a phenomenally entertaining actor in person, due to McNeill testing positive for Covid), but there are always a number of interesting people making appearances. This year, among many outstanding actors, the guests included Adam Baldwin (Firefly, Chuck, The Last Ship) and Summer Glau (Firefly, Sarah Connor Chronicles, Sequestered, Arrow), and I was able to speak with both of them.

Summer Glau has put acting on the back burner for the moment as she home-schools her children. She herself was home schooled due to an overriding love of ballet, and thus was able to pursue dance more in depth with the flexibility of home schooling, though she admits there are gaps in her learning. I asked her who her favorite authors were, and what she likes to read. Glau is a fan of Steinbeck, especially East of Eden, as well as the classic Russian novelists like Tolstoy, and of course Jane Austen. She prefers her children have a more classical education, and that includes classical literature. She’s been reading books on farming, with daydreams of someday having a small farm (she is originally from Texas).

Adam Baldwin was a delight (No, he is no relation to Alec Baldwin and brothers). At 23, he appeared in the classic Kubrick film Full Metal Jacket, which is one of my favorites, and we discussed different war films we had each seen. He told me to watch The War Machine with Brad Pitt, I told him to watch 9th Company, an excellent Russian film about their 1980 invasion of Afghanistan. We talked about the WWI epic 1917. Baldwin admits he never made it to college, going into acting by the age of 18. His favorite authors? He likes reading Michael Crichton‘s best sellers such as Congo and Sphere, as well as Tom Clancy, and classic Stephen King, such as The Shining. By his own tale, he informed Stanley Kubrick that his film adaption of the The Shining was not as good as the book, which didn’t put him into Kubrick’s favor (Stephen King has been rather vocal on how much he himself disliked the film, despite it being ranked among the greatest horror films of all time).

In public, actors are always answering questions about their work, things they’ve done or would like to do, or nitpicky trivial questions about a single line of dialogue from decades ago that they can’t remember. Finding out what they like to read is a question they haven’t heard a thousand times, and brings out different aspects of the person behind the tabloid reports. Actors are more than just the roles they play, and finding something in common with them reminds us that off camera, they are people just like us!

From Apocalypse to Zombies

imagesThe concept of dead people returning to life is probably as old as civilization. Ancient Egypt and mummies aside, Child Ballads such as The Unquiet Grave and The Usher’s Wife (Lady Gay) date back to at least the 1400’s. It’s arguable that Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1817) may be considered the first literary zombie (barring Lazarus), a man made of dead parts brought back to life, even if he wasn’t after brains.

The true zombie was born in 1968 with the release of George A. Romero’s cult classic Night of the Living Dead, about 0043396771796_p0_v2_s192x300grisly undead ghouls who feasted on human flesh – the term zombie hadn’t really been invented yet. Made for a paltry $114,000, filmed in black and white, it contained a level of violence and gore never before seen. There was only one problem – the MMPA rating system wouldn’t be in place for another month: Night of the Living Dead, the most gruesome movie ever made at that time, was essentially a General Audience film, and unsuspecting children (and adults) were never the same again.

ZombiesurvivalguideFor a few decades, hard core zombies were relegated to third-rate theaters and 2 am film slots, but began to stagger slowly into the mainstream. Although you have favorites like Scooby Doo at Zombie Island (1998), “Modern” zombies – those whose roots are usually virus-oriented – surged in popularity with the graphic novel The Walking Dead (2003), which spawned the highly popular television series The Walking Dead (2010-present). This was followed by the spoof Shaun of the Dead (2004), the novel World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War which became a major film in 2013, and a veritable epidemic of zombie books, television shows, and films, including The Zombie Survival Guide, The Zombie Combat Manual, and The Art of Eating Through the Zombie Apocalypse. Strangely, these books are more serious than they should be. Even the Centers for Disease Control got in on it, posting their preparedness recommendations for dealing with zombies in 2011 in a push to get people to be prepared for disasters .

If you’re hard core, of course stick to the masters:  Night of the Living Dead, and Day of MV5BMjEyMzMxNzA5MV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwOTkxNjMxMjE@._V1_SX640_SY720_the Dead. If you’re nerves can’t handle that (like mine), there are plenty of other choices that are less gory or  humorous. Zombieland is an A-list take on the issue that is full of humor and lower on gore. Maggie stars Arnold Schwartzenegger in probably his most serious role ever, as a father whose daughter is slowly becoming a zombie. Z Nation is an enjoyable TV series that isn’t quite as serious as The Walking Dead. The Last Ship is a new television series about a group who survives the apocalypse on a boat, and tries to round up survivors.

prideprejudicesmall1If you only like classical literature, fear not. Pride, Prejudice, and Zombies will not leave you behind. There is a book and a newly released DVD, which is utterly delightful, full of classic period speech and women in romantic Empire gowns slicing zombies with ninja skill. Slightly different but still in the realm of classic undead, give Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter a try. Like your films completely different? No mention of zombies would be complete without some reference to Michael Jackson’s 1983 Thriller video, which, at 13 minutes, would qualify as a short film.

Whether you take them seriously ozombieland2_758_426_81_s_c1r not, whether your zombies are what they are because of curses or disease, whether you like to watch saws cut through flesh or you’re battling nuisance zombies on a quest to find the last box of Twinkies, there’s a zombie book or film for you.

Susan Reviews: The Last Ship

Sting (born Gordon Sumner) is one of those hold-overs from the last golden age of music.  His career took off as lead singer for the band The Police, whose pop singles such as “Don’t Stand So Close to Me” scored gold even when re-released. Since the break-up of The Police in 1986, Sting has had his share of solo chart-topping success with power albums such as Dream of the Blue Turtles, but I’m not sure his latest endeavor, The Last Ship, will do as well.

Don’t get me wrong – the album is lovely and showcases Sting’s wide range of talents in a heavy northern accent we didn’t hear during his Police years.  The songs – his first after a ten-year writing hiatus while he dealt with the deaths of his parents – are soft, almost melancholy, exploring the closing of the shipyards in the town he’d grown up in.  It’s a long, long way from “Roxanne” or “King of Pain.” Instead, we’re left with an album that vacillates between traditional-sounding folk tunes (the haunting title track, “The Last Ship,” which never seems to want to leave your head) and soft Sunday-brunch jazz (“August wind”).  If there’s a bad side to the album, it’s that it lacks the wider scope of variety we’ve come to expect from Sting as he has explored various types of music, from pop to rock to jazz to symphony.

If you love soft music, or ballads, or folk music, you’ll enjoy this album, The tunes are haunting, the lyrics thoughtful, with a presence so strong you feel as if you’re walking the streets through an old British-Isles sea town.  If you’re looking for chart-climbing pop singles, go back to Fields of Gold.