Tor.com content by

Leah Schnelbach

Do We Even Want to Talk to the Animals? Dolittle Is a Mess Unworthy of Its Cast

Does everyone else remember the summer of 2008? When the first Iron Man came out, and people were ecstatic about how great Robert Downy Jr., was as Tony Stark, and then like two months later he showed ridiculous range in Tropic Thunder (while also doing a cool riff on his dad’s classic indie film, Putney Swope) and then like a year later Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes adaptation came out, and RDJ was great in that, too?

It looked like the beginning of an incredible career resurgence for RDJ—and then the MCU happened, and it all worked even better than we’d hoped! But after a decade of Iron Man, we were excited to see what big project RDJ would tackle for his first big post-Stark role. Would he go prestige drama? Indie? Over-the-top comedy a la Tropic Thunder?

Or… would he cobble together a collection of his Holmes’ tics—with an accent that veers wildly between “the one he used in Restoration,” “almost-Jack-Sparrow,” and “not-quite-Mrs.-Doubtfire”—and valiantly attempt to portray a depressed, grief-stricken widower in a scene where a polar bear and an ostrich argue in voices provided by Kumail Nanjiani and John Cena?

Join me, on a perilous journey: an attempt at reviewing Dolittle.

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The Rise of Skywalker Shows Us the Path of Resistance

A thing that often gets a bit lost in discussion of Star Wars is that the Empire and the First Order are, essentially, Space Nazis. Through all three Star Wars trilogies, the villains are members of an authoritarian regime that wants to conquer every world and culture in the galaxy, flatten any kind of rebellion or free thought, and crush individual liberty. Every other fandom argument aside, what the series is about is resistance to oppressive rule, sometimes through fighting and guerilla tactics, sometimes through non-violence.

I’m going to put my cards on the table and tell you I didn’t like The Rise of Skywalker all that much, mostly because I didn’t think it took enough time with that central theme. (Also FinnPoe, but that’s a whole other article.) However, there was one element that the film did quite well, and to talk about it I need to sidetrack us a little bit into Terrence Malick’s A Hidden Life.

Bear with me.

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Excellent Writing Advice from Erotica Author Chuck Tingle

You know how sometimes you’ll read a particular author and find that their cadences and word choices are creeping into your own head-voice? Or sometimes into your writing? I ask because I have spent these last few days reading a lot of Chuck Tingle, and my brain is currently a CAPSLOCK wonderland filled with buckaroos and sentient jet-skis.

The purpose, you ask? Well, aside from the sheer joy of proving love, I thought it might be a fun quest: is it possible that such an eccentric body of work could yield practical writing advice?

Is Living Corn handsome?

Do Space Raptors like to invade butts?

The answer, dear readers, is yes.

Trot down below the break, buckaroos, to find some classic Writing Ways.

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2010-2019: A Decade of Change in Science Fiction & Fantasy

This December brings us to the close of a truly extraordinary and transformative decade for SFF. Epic series like The Wheel of Time finally concluded as A Song of Ice and Fire rose to mainstream prominence on television (with Wheel of Time to follow suit?). Newer stars like N.K. Jemisin rose, while familiar faces like Neil Gaiman published some of their most innovative work yet. We saw the rise of fiction that dealt directly with the ongoing Climate Crisis, works that wrestled with the tumultuous political shifts, cozy space opera, gritty space opera, and literal space opera, with like, actual singing. Zombies faded from favor while orcs and goblins and fishmen found their time to shine. Readers went from celebrating Strong Female Characters to asking for Complicated Female Characters, and the literary landscape became much more inclusive for writers who had previously been marginalized. And, as in every decade, the villains threatened to steal the show entirely.

Four members of the Tor.com fam, Publicity Coordinator Christina Orlando, Tor.com writers Leah Schnelbach and Natalie Zutter, and Tor Books’ Senior Marketing Manager Renata Sweeney sat down for a rollicking, five-hour-long conversation about the decade in genre, discussing trends, favorite books, the heroes and villains who have stuck with them, and even a look forward to some titles that will help define the next decade.

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Rian Johnson’s Looper and the Art of the Supervillain

Like approximately 2 billion of you, I went to see Joker last month. And as the ensuing conversations about The State of Society and Is Violence Ever Justifiable and Angry Men and oh yeah What About The State of Cinema and Wait, Batman Canon! swirled around, I realized that the biggest disappointment for me is that the film simply did not work as the supervillain origin story it purported to be. Despite Joaquin Phoenix’s goddamn superb performance, the film wallowed too much in its own in misery for two and a half hours, and where it simply did not work was as a supervillain origin story.

But there are two other films that take the rise of supervillainy seriously: Unbreakable, a dark tale that pre-dates the current wave of comics films, and Looper, a time-travel story that hides its super-powered villain till the final act.

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Knives Out Is So Much More Than This Generation’s Clue

Knives Out could have been a lot of things.

The trailers promised a fun whodunit, a Clue for a new generation. A smirky, snarky role for post-Captain America Chris Evans. A return to quirky genre films for a post-Star Wars Rian Johnson.

And be assured, it is all of those things.

But rather than coasting on the film’s considerable visual style or the script’s sharpity sharp sharp wit, Rian Johnson has taken the coziest, tropiest of genres and used it to tell a story about America—and he’s made my favorite movie since Mad Max: Fury Road.

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The Definitive Ranking of Every MST3K Short

The news coming out of Circle Pines is disheartening: Netflix has cancelled the MST3K revival after two seasons. And this is, yes, sad. But! It’s not like the show hasn’t died and come back a couple times already. Joel and the gang are looking for other potential homes, and in the meantime, no one’s taking the old episodes or Rifftrax away from us. Plus, the Turkey Day Marathon will be airing once again—you can find out how to watch here. Thus, in honor of the time-honored Thanksgiving tradition of gorging on cheesy movies, Tor.com is sharing one of our favorite Satellite of Love-related projects: this definitive wholly subjective ranking of almost every short!

Compared to most cult-inspiring TV shows, MST3K is a shambling beast. They’re all two hours long! And if you’re trying to watch with an opinionated group of viewers—say your family and friends at Thanksgiving—you have to navigate which host to go with, whether TV’s Frank is there, Corbett vs. Beaulieu vs. Yount… it gets complicated. The best way I’ve found to avoid all of those issues is to go with the shorts. They’re quick, the hosts don’t matter as much, and they’re so deeply weird that they make for a pure, concentrated does of MST3K.

My hope is that this list helps you, yes you, better enjoy—and maybe induct some new members into—the greatest pop cultural cult of all time.

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Watchmen Heads Into the Past to Show Us a True American Hero Story

What is the price of “Truth, Justice, and The American Way”? Are Truth and Justice only for certain people? Can anyone earn them?

This week’s Watchmen, “This Extraordinary Being”, takes us into the youth of Will Reeves, via Angela Abar’s Nostalgia trip. It’s amazing, and brilliantly shot, with an interplay of super saturated black-and-white and tiny highlights of color that turns the episode into some unholy baby of Schindler’s List and Sin City.

And yes, that Nazi rally at Madison Square Garden is ALSO real. (Just like the Tulsa Massacre.) It took place in 1939, and about 20,000 “humans” attended it.

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Doctor Sleep Bypasses Typical Horror Tropes to Ask if Recovery Is Possible

I am of two minds.

On the one hand, this may be the best possible sequel to The Shining. Mike Flanagan has managed to synthesize the most iconic parts of Stanley Kubrick’s film, with the deep love that Stephen King had for his characters—the love that was so strong he had to catch up with Danny Torrance nearly forty years later in a 2013 sequel. Flanagan wrangles Doctor Sleep’s original characters and puts them in conversation with Kubrick’s visuals and the sense of haunted despair that make The Shining such an unsettling watch.

But on the other hand, this is a fundamentally different film than the Shining. It does some things with tone and intention that undercut Kubrick’s vision. And despite the ghosts and mystical trappings, Doctor Sleep is not a horror movie.

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Watchmen Delves Into Angela’s Past with Dark Hints of Her Future

Once again Watchmen gives us a compelling hour of television! This week’s episode, “If You Don’t Like My Story, Write Your Own,” introduces us to the mysterious Lady Trieu, and gives us a bit more backstory on Angela Abar.

While I will say that I’m getting slightly annoyed with the show dropping clues and hints and then cutting out before they actually answer any of the questions they’re raising, I do think they’re building to something. And even if the pay off isn’t perfect, the acting is so incredible, and watching these characters bounce off each other each week is simply a delight.

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Six Books About Spacefaring Missionaries

When science fiction authors write about first contact, or politically fraught cultural exchange, it’s only natural to draw on humanity’s long real-world history of washing up on strange shores and trying to make sense of—or dominate—alien cultures. The historical people making that first contact were often religious missionaries, either people who were seeking a new life away from oppressive governments or religious structures, or those who believed that the greatest role they could have was to spread their religion to people who didn’t know it.

Obviously this did not always go well.

Which is why it makes sense to take stories of missionaries and merge them with stories of space travel! The inherent drama of meeting an alien civilization is only enhanced by the built-in tension of different faiths and belief systems crashing into each other, and that dynamic has resulted in some absolute classics of science fiction. I’ve gathered up six books that follow people of faith on journeys that take them across strange landscapes, and, sometimes, into the stars.

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