By Alex McPherson

A creative, darkly comic story of self-destructive ego and fame’s dehumanizing effects, director Kristoffer Borgli’s “Dream Scenario” is never less than engaging — with an outstanding Nicolas Cage performance — but can’t meld its timely ideas into a fully cohesive whole.

Borgli’s film follows Paul Matthews (Cage), a tenured university professor teaching evolutionary biology to disinterested students — he’s unfulfilled professionally and seeking recognition in his field. Paul wants to publish a book on his research and fumes that a former colleague (that he hasn’t seen in 30 years) beats him to the punch, allegedly stealing his theory of “Ant-elligence” for her own writing venture. It’s a critical blow to his ego.

At home, Paul has a loving wife, Janet (Julianne Nicholson), and two daughters, Sophie (Lily Bird) and Hannah (Jessica Clement). By most accounts, Paul has a pretty privileged life, but he seeks more — quietly experiencing a midlife crisis within his self-loathing headspace. His seemingly simple yearnings belie a misguided sense of entitlement and ungratefulness.

Out of the blue, Paul appears in Sophie’s dream: he casually observes as random objects crash onto their outdoor patio and Sophie is lifted into the sky, making no effort to rescue her. Randomly, old connections, students, and, eventually, people all over the country he’s never met start seeing Paul in their dreams as well. Just like with Sophie, Paul awkwardly (and humorously) observes in the background as the dreamer experiences some dramatic event — such as crocodile infestation, tooth extraction, or a not-so-friendly neighborhood demon.

Paul is initially thrilled by the attention, albeit disappointed at his “inadequacy” within the situations themselves. He’s on the news, students line up to take selfies with him, and his family sees him in a new light. Janet, especially, sees glimmers of the confident man she fell in love with, yet grows increasingly jealous, since Paul doesn’t appear in her own dreams.

Paul is even contacted by a PR group (called “Thoughts?”), led by Trent (Michael Cera), who wants Paul to sponsor big brands so he can “dreamfluence” people in their slumber. At the end of the day, all Paul wants to do is get a book published on his scholarship, which he hasn’t actually started writing yet, and maybe get invited to dinner by a wealthy colleague.

Before long, Paul’s narcissism grows. His dream-world persona suddenly takes on a more nefarious role in peoples’ sleep states; he’s now a monster haunting with gleefully violent abandon. Thus begins Paul’s descent into the throes of Cancel Culture, digging his own grave as society ostracizes him — initially for forces beyond his control — reckoning with celebrity and his own self-absorption as his previously stable lifestyle falls apart.

Indeed, “Dream Scenario” certainly has a lot on its mind. Although the film doesn’t hit bullseyes on all its targets, Borgli crafts a trenchant commentary on society’s mindlessness — oscillating between hilarity, horror, and pathos that keeps viewers on their toes. And there’s no more fitting person than Cage to lead the way, in a role that gives him space to showcase his considerable range as a performer.

Cage — himself a celebrity who’s been “memeified” by the masses as an over-the-top cartoon character — lends both humanity and zaniness to his portrayal. He renders Paul (balding, with a nasally whine of a voice) a character that’s easy to poke fun at, but also to empathize with. Cage successfully portrays Paul as an irritating, sympathetic, fragile person, going effectively bonkers in the frightening and at-times shockingly violent nightmares. Whether unhinged or grounded, Cage clearly relishes the role as an opportunity to reject being pigeonholed into one acting style. Borgli, too, refuses to paint Paul in black-and-white absolutes.

Borgli’s screenplay encourages viewers not to root for or against Paul as the collateral damage piles up. Nor does Borgli vilify the masses who launch Paul into stardom and, subsequently, the cultural garbage bin. Rather, “Dream Scenario” depicts a world that abuses the idea of celebrity, simultaneously punishing Paul’s dependence on being seen and admired without taking responsibility for his own happiness. 

It’s also quite funny, containing one of the best cinematic farts to ever grace the silver screen. This tonal imbalance can be distracting, for sure, though maybe that’s the point, reflecting Paul’s separation from his modest beginnings. Paul’s world is crumbling before his eyes — the public plays satirical whack-a-mole with his feelings. This brings comedy and tragedy to the table, making laughs catch in viewers’ throats.

Additionally, by matter-of-factly depicting the film’s nightmare sequences, “Dream Scenario” dares viewers to separate the monstrous incarnation of Paul from his true self. As viewers weave in and out of “lived experience” (jumping into victims’ dreams, which cinematographer Benjamin Loeb frames as slightly-heightened reality), perhaps, the film says, we cannot. 

Overall, “Dream Scenario” reveals itself as an absurdist take on human folly that shares similarities with director Ari Aster’s  “Beau is Afraid” in manifesting its protagonist’s worst fears (Aster’s a producer on “Dream Scenario”) and punishing them for their cowardice and lack of accountability. 

The film’s fatalism, however, is a double-edged sword. Borgli sends Paul down a path with no easy exit or opportunities for redemption (throwing in on-the-nose cultural references meant to provoke). To its credit, what plays out seems plausibly true-to-life in terms of Paul’s reactions and how society treats him. This predictability also breeds hopelessness and lack of resolution, becoming less involving due to its inevitabilities. Once Paul’s life has been suitably demolished, the film seems unsure what to do with him — reflecting Paul’s own sad aimlessness, yet remaining incomplete as a story. 

Besides Paul, supporting characters of varying complexity are brought to life by an ensemble committed to the craziness. Nicholson brings warmth, sass, and heartbreak to her role as Janet, dealing first-hand with the fallout of Paul’s declining mental state and selfishness. Cera is excellent at delivering his dryly comedic dialogue, as are Kate Berlant and an uncomfortably hilarious Dylan Gelula as his associates. Tim Meadows steals scenes as Paul’s department head reconciling his friendship with Paul with the pariah he becomes.

Altogether, “Dream Scenario” is a bizarre, unconventionally compelling watch — calling out people like Paul and our social-media-obsessed, consumerist society at large — content to unsettle and leave threads dangling. Third-act clunkiness notwithstanding, it’s a one-of-a-kind work difficult to forget.

“Dream Scenario” is a 2023 comedy written, directed and edited by Kristoffer Borgli and starring Nicolas Cage, Julianne Nicholson, Tim Meadows, Michael Cera and Dylan Gelula. It is Rated R for language, violence and some sexual content. and its run time is1 hour, 43 minutes. It opens in theatres Dec. 1.Alex’s Grade: B+.

By Lynn Venhaus

Transformative in the very best of ways, both heartbreaking and heartwarming, “American Symphony” is an ode to believing in art, hope, and love.

It’s a portrait of two artists, musician Jon Batiste and writer Suleika Jaouad, at a crossroads in life, and how their devotion to each other, and their creative expression become their survival mechanism.

The longtime couple are two remarkable and talented human beings whose hearts beat as one. What started as a documentary detailing Batiste putting together an ambitious and genre-jumping symphony became something different when they found out Suleika’s leukemia had returned after 10 years in remission.

It was the same week in November 2021 that Jon became the most celebrated artist of the year with 11 Grammy nominations. For the next seven months, they share their intimate journey as they experience the highest of highs and the lowest of lows.

Directed with keen insight and empathetic sensitivity by Matthew Heineman, Oscar nominee for “Cartel Land” in 2016, this film is not only one of the best feature documentaries of the year, but also one of my favorite films of the year.

Jon Batiste in concert

When he is not composing and rehearsing “American Symphony,” an original work that reimagined the traditions of the classical form, bringing together an inclusive cultural group for a one-night-only performance at Carnegie Hall on Sept. 22, 2022, he is at his wife’s hospital bedside while she recovers from a bone-marrow transplant.

Batiste, Oscar winner for the music score to “Soul” (along with Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross), and five-time Grammy winner, including Album of the Year for “We Are,” is likely most known as the bandleader of “Late Show with Stephen Colbert” from 2015 to 2021. He left that job to help care for his wife.

Jaouad is a best-selling author whose book “Between Two Kingdoms: A Memoir of a Life Interrupted” was about how she began again after her first four-year battle with cancer – a diagnosis she had received post-college graduation, at age 22. She writes The Isolation Journals, which has developed an online community.

Suleika Jaouad

Now 35 and 37, they met at a summer band camp when she was 12 and he was 14, and they’ve been in a relationship since 2014.

The love song that plays over the end credits, “It Never Went Away,” is one of many lullabies that he wrote Suleika during her cancer treatment. He composed the song, “Butterfly,” that is included on his “World Music Radio” album, in her hospital room and it is now nominated for a Grammy for Song of the Year.

Gayle King once described Batiste as “walking joy,” and he exudes that performing. But here, he’s open about his grappling with the weight of Suleika’s treatment on his mental health.

During a concert performance, he dedicates his last song to Suleika, but frozen with raw emotion, he must ‘compartmentalize’ his feelings to push forward. It’s these genuine moments that define the film.

Suleika and Jon at Memorial Sloane Kettering Cancer Center

Just like their bodies of work soothe the soul, they have collaborated on a touching chronicle of their tremendous courage, resilience, and deep love for each other. 

They trusted Heinemann, and consented to have cameras present during some of their most vulnerable moments, and their willingness to be honest about their struggles deepens our connection.

“American Symphony” is a testament to the human spirit, and will be able to reach a lot of people who need that assurance.

“American Symphony” is a 2023 documentary directed by Matthew Heineman. It is rated PG-13 for strong language and runs 1 hour, 43 minutes. It streams on Netflix beginning Nov. 29. Lynn’s Grade: A.

(Note: I am a paid subscriber to Suleika’s Isolation Journals and highly recommend signing up for her Sunday writings – free or fee, for anyone, but especially those who have loved ones or themselves who have undergone serious illness, a loss, or setbacks out of our control.)

Jon Batiste conducting “American Symphony”

By Lynn Venhaus

Even the most mean-spirited holiday-hater won’t be muttering “Bah! Humbug” after sampling the jolly high-octane hip-hop musical remix of Charles Dickens’ classic because “Q Brothers Christmas Carol” will make them laugh instead.

This unique 80-minute variation makes it easy to be swept up in the merriment, a welcome antidote to the ongoing misery in a turbulent world.

With the recognizable imprimatur of the incredibly talented Q Brothers Collective, those unconventional creatives from the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, this joyous boogie beat mashes reggae, rap, and epic rock ballads together.

Dickens’ novella was published in 1843 and there have been numerous interpretations in the 180 years since, including Muppets and Disney movies, a rom com with Matthew McConaughey, and musical comedy with Will Ferrell and Ryan Reynolds, not to mention TV shows and specials, and countless stage versions.

This modern madcap romp is a special presentation by the St. Louis Shakespeare Festival in a festively decorated nook of the National Blues Museum downtown. Performances take place from Wednesday through Saturday at 8 p.m. and Saturday at 3 p.m. too, from Nov. 24 to Dec. 23.

Written and directed by GQ, JQ, Jax and Pos of the Q Brothers Collective, they proclaim they make art that rhymes, and they are not slackers in that department, following through with impressively snappy lyrics. Not a ninny-muggins among them.

They bring the same level of rat-a-tat-tat quick-change artistry that characterized their two-hander “Dress the Part” here in the Grove in early 2020. That was locally produced by the Shakespeare fest folks and won several St. Louis Theater Circle Awards when we resumed honoring regional theater post-pandemic in 2022.

If you attended that show, then you know you are in for a special treat.

This don’t-miss variation was developed with Rick Boyton and the music composition is by JQ. It’s such a spirited blend of dance, dubstep, and DJ-spun beats that it has become a holiday tradition on Chicago’s Navy Pier.

Photo by Phillip Hamer.

Spreading goodwill with the rhythms and rhymes, the cast includes Victor Musoni as Jacob Marley, Lil Tim and others; Maya Vinice Prentiss as Bob Cratchit, Ghosts of Past and Present, and others; and Mo Shipley as Oliver, Fred, and others.

Garrett Young, memorable in the aforementioned “Dress the Part,” feigns crotchety as a scowling Scrooge (who can remarkably bust a move). The fleet-footed quartet seem to be in constant motion and grooves in sync to Steph Paul’s kinetic choreography. Perhaps you recall her outstanding designed movements in “The Royale” at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis in 2017. Mel Bady keeps the jingle jangling as DJ Stank.

The performers are all superb entertainers, with crisp comic timing and engaging personalities. As nimble as a skilled improvisational troupe, you’ll marvel at their energy.

The story follows the familiar tropes of Dickens’ story about a horribly selfish, mean jerk who is redeemed after visits from four ghosts enlighten him on the error of his ways. This script leans into the humor and the heart to connect with an eager-for-adventure crowd.

A delightful surprise is that this supple presentation includes many references to contemporary Christmas movies, songs, and pop culture shorthand. They might not pull out a Red Ryder BB gun, but someone’s tongue is going to wind up on a frozen pole.

The sparkly scenic design by William Attaway is evocative of the Dickensian settings, enhanced by lighting designer Jesse Klug’s moody illumination. Costume designer Erika McClellan, a St. Louis native, has fashioned outfits more street savvy than Victorian era. And Stephen Ptacek’s expert sound design keeps the flow percolating.

Stage Manager Kathryn Ballard, who worked on “Dress the Part,” and assistant Patrick Siler are veterans who know how to keep things fluid, and there isn’t a minute wasted, no draggy middle whatsoever. The show runs without an intermission.

The engaging troupe exudes warmth and a playful attitude. However, if you’re seeking an old-fashioned family-friendly cup of cozy Hallmark comfort, this show is not that. Nor will any phrase be needlepointed onto a throw pillow. The material includes mature themes and adult language, so it’s best enjoyed by ages 12 and up.

For more information, tips on parking and what seasonal cocktails are available at the pop-up bar Club Fezzy:

By Lynn Venhaus

Back in his day, John Barrymore was considered one of the most influential and idolized actors of stage and screen. He died at age 60 in 1942, and by then, his personal life — four divorces, alcohol abuse — had overshadowed his professional career. However, his glorious stage work, particularly his “Hamlet” in 1922, drew rave reviews for his tragic portrayals, and his body of work has been a testament to his legendary impact.

So, it seems fitting that John Contini, one of St. Louis’ most respected and tenacious actors, would assume the title role for a new production at the St. Louis Actors’ Studio in a limited engagement Dec. 1 -10 at the Gaslight Theatre, 360 N. Boyle. Performances are Friday through Sunday Dec. 1-3, and Tuesday through Sunday, Dec. 5-10, at 8 p.m. except for Sundays, which are at 3 p.m. For more information, visit:

John Contini as “Barrymore.” Photo by Patrick Huber

The two-person play “Barrymore” by William Luce depicts the famous actor a few months before his death as he is rehearsing “Richard III,” which would be a revival of his 1920 Broadway triumph. Each act begins with a grand entrance onto the stage that he has rented to prepare for his comeback performance. He jokes with the audience, spars with the offstage prompter, reminisces about better times, and does delicious imitations of his siblings Lionel and Ethel. Frank, the stage manager that can be heard over the theatre’s loudspeaker, is voiced by Alexander Huber. The play is directed by Erin Kelley.

Produced on Broadway in 1997, Christopher Plummer won the Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actors in a Play, and reprised the role in a 2011 film adaptation.

Contini, who describes the actor as fascinating, has portrayed the larger-than-life thespian before, for the Avalon Theatre Company at the ArtSpace at Crestwood Court, both no longer in existence, in the summer of 2009. For that effort, he won a Kevin Kline Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Play.

“I am grateful I get to revisit and revive John Barrymore,” he said.

His award-winning performance as Willy Loman in “Death of a Salesman” in 2014.

He has been an Equity and SAG/AFTRA actor for more than 40 years, and has performed in over 300 productions across the country. He has been in shows at the St. Louis Repertory Theatre, The Black Repertory Theatre, New Jewish Theatre, and The Muny in St. Louis, as well as the Fox in Atlanta, Starlight Theatre in Kansas City, August Wilson Theatre in New York City, Ozark Actors’ Theatre in Rolla, Mo., Maples Repertory Theatre in Macon, Mo., and the Bluff City Theatre in Hannibal, Mo., among others.

He won a St. Louis Theater Circle Award for Outstanding Actor in a Drama for his portrayal of Willy Loman in Insight Theater’s “Death of a Salesman” in 2014. For his “King Lear” at St. Louis Actors’ Studio, he received the GO Magazine Award as Best Actor. Other favorite roles include Tevye in “Fiddler on the Roof,” Norman Thayer in “On Golden Pond” and Henry Drummond in “Inherit the Wind.” He’s appeared in the film “Four Color Eulogy” with his son Jason Contini, who is also an actor.

He has also directed over 60 productions, including “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf”: at St. Louis Actors’ Studio, for which he won Outstanding Director from the St. Louis Theater Circle. Other credits include “The Gin Game,” “American Buffalo,” “Tuesdays with Morrie,” “Deathtrap” and “I Do! I Do!”

John Contini in the movie “Four Color Eulogy”

Take Ten Q &A with John Contini:

1. What is special about your latest project?

 I like that I get to revisit and revive John Barrymore, who I find fascinating.

2. Why did you choose your profession/pursue the arts?

I could never see myself doing anything other than something in the Arts.  The arts are the windows to our culture.

3. How would your friends describe you?

Loyal, dependable and dedicated…I hope

4. How do you like to spend your spare time? 

Watching old movies, researching movies and writing and drawing.

5. What is your current obsession?

 Godzilla movies and drawing at the moment

6. What would people be surprised to find out about you? 

That I am a comic book collector, writer and artist.

7. Can you share one of your most defining moments in life? 

Professionally : the first time I appeared on stage at the age of 18. I just knew that this is what I had to do for the rest of my life.

8. Who do you admire most?

I have always admired the actor and the man Vincent Price and how he handled his life and his career.

9. What is at the top of your bucket list? 

I’m pretty easy.  Go to the Oscars or the Tonys LIVE would be fun.

10. How were you affected by the pandemic years, and anything you would like to share about what got you through and any lesson learned during the isolation periods? Any reflections on how the arts were affected? And what it means to move forward?

Father and son awards

The Covid years gave me a chance to finish the book I was writing and soon publishing, and to spend more time at home also to make plans for the future when things could open up again. It gave me time to reflect on what was important to me and how I wanted to spend the time I have left.  As for how Covid effected the Arts, I would say that the Arts became more private and personal because of the isolation. 

11. What is your favorite thing to do in St. Louis?

Walking in different parks

12. What’s next? 

I am working on a small independent film with my son Jason and promoting my book.

Inherit the Wind

More About John Contini
Birthplace: St Louis
Current location: St Louis
Family: wife Sharon, sons Jason and Nathan, daughter-in-law Danielle
Education: highest level Master in Theatre Arts from St. Louis University
Day job: retired
First job: Bagger at South Public Market
First movie you were involved in or made: Escape From New York
Favorite jobs/roles/plays or work in your medium? Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof, Wily Loman in Death Of A Salesman, Barrymore, directing: classic dramas like Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolff
Dream job/opportunity: Work for Spielberg
Awards/Honors/Achievements: Go Magazine Award Best Actor for King Lear, Kevin Kline award Best Actor for Barrymore, St Louis Theatre Circle awards: Best Actor for Wily Loman (Death of a Salesman) and Best Director for Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolff
Favorite quote/words to live by: Love the ART in yourself, not yourself in the ART.
A song that makes you happy: “Comedy Tonight” from “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to a Forum

Bobby Miller and John Contini in “King Lear”

“Barrymore” is a limited engagement Dec. 1- 10, with shows performed Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m., with special performances Tuesday, Dec. 5 and Wednesday, Dec. 6. General admission tickets are $40 each plus fees, $35 each plus fees for students with valid ID and seniors 65+, available via Ticketmaster or at the theater box office one hour before showtime. For more information, visit or email

About St. Louis Actors’ Studio

St. Louis Actors’ Studio was founded to bring a fresh vision to theatre in St. Louis. Housed in The Gaslight Theater in historic Gaslight Square, STLAS is committed to bringing engaging theatrical experiences to our community of actors, writers, producers, filmmakers and all patrons of the arts; and to provide a strong ensemble environment to foster learning and artistic expression. St. Louis Actors’ Studio, through the use of ensemble work, will explore the endless facets and various themes of the human condition by producing existing and original collaborative theatre. For more information, visit

See the trailer for “Barrymore”:

John Contini, David Wassilak, Richard Lewis in “The Dresser” in 2018 at STLAS, directed by Bobby Miller.

SATE is seeking submissions for Directors and Writers for the Eighth Annual Aphra Behn Festival, which will be presented March 29-31, 2024. The theme for the 2024 Festival is “Transformations”. 

When established in 2017, a goal of the Aphra Behn Festival was to give women interested in directing and writing for theatre an opportunity to get more experience, try out ideas, experiment, and hone their craft. SATE now looks to make the Festival a more inclusive space for transgender and non-binary artists, as well.

The Aphra Behn Festival is named for the fascinating poet, translator, and spy, Aphra Behn, who is widely considered to be the first English woman to make her living as a playwright. SATE produced a play about her, “Or,” by Liz Duffy Adams, in February 2015 and collaborated with Prison Performing Arts to adapt Behn’s play, “The Rover”, for the artists at the Women’s Eastern Reception, Diagnostic, and Correctional Center in Vandalia to perform. “The Rover” was also the text shared by the directors in the 2020 Festival. SATE feels very much a part of Aphra’s legacy. 

For artists interested in applying to be a director, email by December 11, 2023 with a personal experience that inspired your interest in directing for theatre. SATE’s co-producers, Rachel Tibbetts and Ellie Schwetye, will contact applicants for a further interview.

For artists interested in submitting a play, email it to by December 11, 2023. The play must contain the following ingredients:

  • Theme: Transformations
  • 3 characters max
  • Must be no longer than 20 minutes
  • A reference to a fairytale/childhood story or character
  • A mention of a Shakespeare play or character
  • A magic trick
  • One element (air, water, fire, earth) used in excess
  • A moment of music using one of the following songs:
    • Change or Telling Stories by Tracy Chapman
    • White Rabbit by Jefferson Airplane
    • Changes by David Bowie
    • Heads will Roll by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs
  • Utilize text created by the Spoken Word Artists

SATE is partnering with Prison Performing Arts (PPA) and their Spoken Word artists in Vandalia, MO, who have written poems following the season theme and inspired by fairy tales and children’s stories. Click the link above or here to read these poems.

The Eighth Annual Aphra Behn Festival will be performed at the Chapel (6238 Alexander Drive, 63105), across from Forest Park, March 29-31, 2024. Rehearsals will begin the first week of March 2024.

SATE will be hiring three directors and three writers for the 2023 Aphra Behn Festival. Artists of all ethnicities, races, ages, abilities, and backgrounds are encouraged to apply. Submissions from applicant directors and writers will be reviewed by members of SATE’s Artistic Advisory Ensemble.

SATE is grateful for the support of the St. Louis Regional Arts Commission, the Missouri Arts Council, the Steve Nelson Memorial Playwright’s Fund, and the Siteman Family Charitable Fund for making the Eighth Annual Aphra Behn Festival possible.

By Lynn Venhaus
The idealist in me wants to believe in Disney magic, of good triumphing over evil, of the power of community, and memorable moments, often with hopeful songs, that “Wish” embodies. 

Nevertheless, the cynic in me wonders if Disney’s reliance on their formula, just in time for the holidays, to endear a whole new line of toys to their loyal fans, makes the film lack the luster that “Frozen” and “Encanto” did.

Because the leading lady Asha’s pet goat Valentino, voiced by Disney regular Alan Tudyk, is certain to fly off the shelves, with its lovable demeanor and snappy dialogue. And the cosmic force that changes the plot’s trajectory, a Star, is drawn as a golden ball of energy. Cha-ching.

But we should be used to this, especially after the Disney Renaissance of the 1990s, where the Disney princesses became icons and prestige was bestowed with many awards for the animated musicals’ songs and scores. The bar was raised.

However, in recent years, the Disney output has been a mixed bag of highs and lows. For every “Zootopia,” there’s a “Strange World.” And I’m not even going to mention the live action remakes.

For all its good intentions to celebrate the Walt Disney Studios’ centennial, “Wish,” which is supposed to be the musical origin story for the “Wishing Star” that Disney is famous for, feels like a cut-and-paste tribute. 

Co-written  by the “Frozen” team of Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee, along with Allison Moore, “Wish” follows a young girl named Asha who attempts to save the fantastical Kingdom of Rosas from darkness. She wishes on a star and that trouble-making beacon comes down from the sky to join her because King Magnifico, a sorcerer, isn’t all that he seems to be.

Asha has seven friends who are grumpy, dopey, sneezy, and so forth – wink, wink. Sure, plenty of Easter eggs, but the homages are often nods to better efforts, and are missing the magic they are trying so hard to create.

The plucky heroine, a compassionate and smart peasant girl, rallies her beloved community because the cunning ruler, King Magnifico, voiced by a first-rate Chris Pine as both unctuous and ruthless, becomes a megalomaniac before our eyes. The whole wish symbolism gets a little muddled if you think about what all that means — putting your hopes and dreams into an omnipotent ruler.

As Asha, Ariana DeBose is a powerhouse vocalist, and the animators wisely capture her lithe dancing style, plus she can emotionally connect as the character.

While female empowerment is always worthy, with positive portrayals to propel this musical comedy, the other message is a noble one, and actually a little daring with its cautionary tale on authoritarianism and fascism. (Real world headlines intrude!)

The vocal work is fine – among the recognizable names, Victor Garber is a sympathetic grandfather Sabino, Evan Peters is Simon, one of Asha’s friends, and Ramy Youssef is Safi.

But the script is rather slight, and the music doesn’t seem to have a break-out original song like the “Encanto” or “Moana” songbook. Nevertheless, “This Wish” and “Knowing What I Know Now” are catchy – just not earworms like “Let It Go” or the Menken-Ashman canon. 

Stay for the credits because they will include every Disney animated feature in artwork, and there is a bonus scene with an iconic Disney song.

“Wish” is pleasant enough – just not as endearing as we’ve come to expect from the Mouse House. But its statement, perhaps aimed at a certain governor of the state where Disney World is based, is funny in a sly master stroke way. The movie’s message: Be careful what you wish for.

“Wish” is a 2023 animated musical fantasy directed by Chris Buck and Fawn Veerasunthorn and starring Ariana DeBose, Chris Pine, VIctor Garber, Alan Tudyk, Angelique Cabral, Evan Peters and Ramy Youssef. It is rated PG for thematic elements and mild action, and the run time is 1 hour, 35 minutes. It opened in theatres Nov. 22. Lynn’s Grade: B-.

By Lynn Venhaus

Think a second tier “Ted Lasso” meets a “Cool Runnings” vibe in this rough-around-the-edges underdog sports comedy-drama that is based on a true story.

The now infamous American Samoa soccer team, known for a historically brutal 2001 FIFA match they lost 31-0 to Australia, seeks redemption — and a goal — in 2014 or they’ll be booted out of the football federation.

Aimed at the heart with emphasis on quirky, director and co-writer Taika Waititi focuses on the likability of the Pacific Islanders involved with the soccer team, and the colorful inhabitants of American Samoa, a U.S. territory in the South Pacific Ocean.

It’s a mixed result. Waititi and co-screenwriter Aian Morris follow the template of the 2014 documentary of the same name, but naturally embellished for a narrative. 

Set in 2014, many people still have not gotten over the 2001 humiliation and are doubtful about the next World Cup qualifying match as the team hasn’t scored a goal since. Football Federation President Tavita, wonderfully played by charmer Oscar Kightley, is determined to get the team across that hurdle, so he hires a hothead Dutch-born coach Thomas Rongen (Michael Fassbender), who has been fired for egregious behavior, four weeks away from the game.

Naturally, he’s a fish out of water – faced with the ultimatum to leave or take the American Samoan job. His surly demeanor is at odds with the happy-go-lucky islanders, and does he even like soccer? He drinks too much, yells too much, and cares far too little. 

Following the familiar beats of goodness triumphing over meanness, like every true-story sports movie, “Next Goal Wins” is a crowd-pleaser but average paint-by-numbers movie.

New Zealander Waititi is known for his offbeat work in “What We Do in the Shadows” and “Hunt for the Wilderpeople” won an Oscar for “JoJo Rabbit,” and has directed a couple mega budget “Thor” movies.

Michael Fassbender and Jaiyah

Most surprising is seeing the intense Michael Fassbender cast as the down-on-his-luck maverick coach Thomas Rongen, who is tasked with turning the world’s worst soccer team around as World Cup Qualifiers approach. American Samoa is ranked last, and if they do not win, will be booted.

Fassbender, two-time Oscar nominee for “Steve Jobs” and “12 Years a Slave,” is known for serious roles. He is an odd choice, but this rage-aholic coach is a high-strung guy, so playing cantankerous, screaming so much his veins stand out, is within his specific set of skills. 

The character is designed to be redeemed, of course, and he gets his big speech, although throws a couple curves in, to explain some of his behavior. Fassbender is never going to be warm and fuzzy, or funny, for that matter, but you do root for him to get out of his own way.

In the spirit of “The Mighty Ducks” and “Bad News Bears,” the team players espouse the ‘old college try’ philosophy, and fit the kooky mold Waititi was going for, along with providing a strong sense of community. 

The likable Jaiyah, a transgender player, portrayed by a winsome Kaimana, is horribly disrespected by Rongen, and that relationship development is a focus of the plot, but the others aren’t given much to work with – Beulah Koale as Tavita’s son, Semu Filipo as police officer Rambo, and Uli Latukefu as the former goalie Nicky Salapu stand out.

Armani, the kid helping Rongen, is another source of comic relief, and Waititi uses the young actor Armani Makaiwa wisely. 

In supporting roles are Elisabeth Moss as Rongen’s divorce-headed wife, Will Arnett, who replaced Armie Hammer, as football federation board’s Alex Magnussen, and Rachel House as Tavita’s wife Ruth.

Showcasing the natural beauty of the island makes for a pleasant backdrop, with beaches, reefs and stunning cliff outlooks. And the characters’ relaxed way of life adds to the authentic depiction.

If you’re looking for heartwarming, you can find it here. However, if you are seeking a rousing underdog sports film that’s a cut above the usual, seek out the Oscar-winning documentary “Undefeated.”

“Next Goal Wins” is a 2023 Sports Comedy directed by Taika Waititi and starring Michael Fassbender, Elisabeth Moss, Will Arnett, Oscar Kightley, Kaimana, and David Fane. It’s rated: PG-13 for some strong language and crude material and runs 1 hour, 43 minutes. It opens in theatres Nov. 17. Lynn’s Grade: C.

On Thanksgiving weekend, SLSO strings perform Antonio Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons and Astor Piazzolla’s The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires at three locations throughout the region, featuring Concertmaster David Halen and Associate Concertmaster Erin Schreiber 

On December 1, conductor David Danzmayr leads the orchestra in Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 2, along with Jessie Montgomery’s Strum and Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Oboe Concerto featuring SLSO Principal Oboist Jelena Dirks

The second of five Live at The Sheldon concerts, curated by SLSO violinist Angie Smart and SLSO cellist Bjorn Ranheim, features SLSO strings players in music by Jessie Montgomery, Christian Quiñones, and Franz Schubert, plus the world premiere of a new work by University of Missouri student Harry González, December 6

On December 8, Kevin McBeth leads the SLSO and the SLSO IN UNISON Chorus in the annual Gospel Christmas concert, featuring baritone Wintley Phipps

The SLSO performs the scores to two films while the movies play on the Stifel Theatre big screen: Home Alone (December 9-10) and Back to the Future (December 28-29)

On December 12-17, the SLSO performs its traditional Mercy Holiday Celebration with a selection of holiday tunes, led by Stuart Malina and featuring vocalist Scarlett Strallen in her SLSO debut, in St. Charles and downtown St. Louis

The surprise-filled New Year’s Eve Celebration rings in 2024 with conductor Norman Huynh and vocalist Jimmie Herrod in his SLSO debut

The St. Louis Symphony Orchestra has announced details of its holiday concerts—a wide range of symphonic concerts performed across six venues throughout the region. Concerts include classical favorites, chamber music, films with scores performed live, and concerts that celebrate the holiday season. Two vocalists will make their SLSO debuts: musical theater veteran Scarlett Strallen and America’s Got Talent finalist Jimmie Herrod.

Tickets are on sale now and may be purchased at or by calling the Box Office at 314-534-1700. A full concert calendar is available at or on the SLSO’s mobile app available for iOS or Android. A broadcast of the December 1 classical concert will be aired on December 2 on 90.7 FM KWMU St. Louis Public Radio, Classic 107.3, and online. Audiences can attend a Pre-Concert Conversation, an engaging discussion about the music and artists on the program, one hour prior to each classical concert.

While the expansion and renovation of Powell Hall continues, the SLSO will perform holiday concerts at several venues throughout the region: St. Joseph Catholic Church Cottleville (November 24), Manchester United Methodist Church in Manchester (November 25), The Sheldon in Grand Center (November 26 and December 6), the Touhill Performing Arts Center at the University of Missouri–St. Louis (December 1), Stifel Theatre in downtown St. Louis (December 8-10, 16-17, 28-29, 31), and the J. Scheidegger Center for Performing Arts at Lindenwood University (December 12-13). Shuttle service will be available for concerts at the Touhill at UMSL and Stifel Theatre starting at $15 per seat. There will be two shuttle pick-up locations for performances at Stifel Theatre: Plaza Frontenac and St. Louis Community College–Forest Park. Shuttles for performances at the Touhill Performing Arts Center at UMSL will depart from Plaza Frontenac, and free parking is available on the UMSL campus.

The Eight Seasons of Vivaldi and Piazzolla 

Friday, November 24, 7:30pm 
St. Joseph Catholic Church Cottleville 
1355 Motherhead Road, Cottleville, MO 63304 

Saturday, November 25, 7:30pm 
Manchester United Methodist Church 
129 Woods Mill Road, Manchester, MO 63011 

Sunday, November 26, 3:00pm 
The Sheldon 
3648 Washington Ave, St. Louis, MO 63108   

David Halen, violin 
Erin Schreiber, violin 

Antonio Vivaldi                                      The Four Seasons 

Astor Piazzolla (arr. Desyatnikov) The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires 

The SLSO brings the melodies of the changing seasons to life in three performances on Thanksgiving weekend. The timeless charm of Antonio Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons transports listeners to the northern Italian countryside, brilliantly contrasting with the passionate soundscape of Argentina in Astor Piazzolla’s The Four Season of Buenos Aires. From Vivaldi’s iconic Spring to Piazzolla’s intense Winter, the SLSO’s own gifted violinists, Concertmaster David Halen and Associate Concertmaster Erin Schreiber, weave a seasonal musical tapestry.  Tickets for general admission are $30.

David Danzmayr

Beethoven’s Second Symphony

Friday, December 1, 10:30am CST*
Friday, December 1, 7:30pm CST
Touhill Performing Arts Center at the University of Missouri–St. Louis 
1 Touhill Circle, St. Louis, Missouri, 63121 

David Danzmayr, conductor
Jelena Dirks, oboe

Jessie Montgomery                             Strum

Ralph Vaughan Williams                   Oboe Concerto (First SLSO performances)

Ludwig van Beethoven                      Symphony No. 2

Presented by the Thomas A. Kooyumjian Family Foundation.

*Refreshments courtesy of Kaldi’s Coffee and Eddie’s Southtown Donuts.

Conductor David Danzmayr returns to the SLSO for two concerts on December 1 that pair the familiar with the new. Danzmayr pushes Ludwig van Beethoven’s Second Symphony close to the edge, revealing the magic behind one of the composer’s lesser-known symphonies. SLSO Principal Oboist Jelena Dirks’ goal is to sing through her instrument. She has every opportunity in the songful, break-your-heart musical world of Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Oboe Concerto, performed by the SLSO for the first time in these concerts. Strum by Jessie Montgomery, the in-demand American composer of this moment, salutes American folk music.   

St. Louis Symphony Orchestra: Live at The Sheldon
Wednesday, December 6, 7:30pm CST  
The Sheldon Concert Hall
3648 Washington Ave., St. Louis, Missouri, 63108

Angie Smart, curator and violin

Bjorn Ranheim, curator and cello

Andrea Jarrett, violin

Shannon Farrell Williams, viola

Aleck Belcher, double bass
Jessie Montgomery                             Strum

Harry González                                     New Work (World premiere)

Christian Quiñones                               Pasemisí, Pasemisá

Franz Schubert                                       String Quintet in C major

Curated by Angie Smart (SLSO violin) and Bjorn Ranheim (SLSO cello).

The performance of Harry González’s work is presented in partnership with the Mizzou New Music Initiative.

Sponsored by the Sinquefield Charitable Foundation.

The second in a five-concert chamber series in partnership with the SLSO’s Grand Center neighbor, The Sheldon, celebrates the virtuosity of SLSO string players on December 6. Curated and led by violinist Angie Smart and cellist Bjorn Ranheim, a quintet of SLSO string players performs a rich array of music by Jessie Montgomery and Christian Quiñones, as well as Franz Schubert’s Quintet in C major. In a unique partnership with the Mizzou New Music Initiative at the University of Missouri, the musicians also give the world premiere of new music by Harry González, a student composer. The St. Louis American called this new series “the hottest ticket in town.”

A Gospel Christmas

Friday, December 8, 7:30pm CST
Stifel Theatre
1400 Market Street, St. Louis, Missouri, 63103

Kevin McBeth, conductor

Wintley Phipps, vocals

St. Louis Symphony IN UNISON Chorus | Kevin McBeth, director

Leroy Anderson                                                    A Christmas Festival

Jeffrey Ames (orch. Dunsmoor)                     A Festive Praise

Traditional                                                              “Walk Together Children”

Traditional (arr. Wilberg)                                  “The Virgin Mary Had a Baby Boy”

Traditional (arr. Lawrence)                               “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”

G.F. Handel (arr. Warren/Jackson/Kibble/Hey/Chinn) “Hallelujah” from Handel’s Messiah: A Soulful Celebration

Traditional (arr. Smith)                                      “Go Tell It On the Mountain”

Traditional (arr. Stoddart/Turner)                                 “Here’s One”

Alfred Burt (arr. Smith)                                     “Some Children See Him”

Jill Jackson (arr. Clydesdale)                            “Let There Be Peace On Earth”

Traditional (arr. Davis)                                       Deck the Halls

Brandon A. Boyd (orch. Joubert)                   “Sign Me Up”

Traditional (arr. Johnson/Davis)                    “Children, Go Where I Send Thee”

Franz Gruber (arr. Tyzik)                                   “Silent Night”

Cliff Duren                                                              Star of Wonder Medley

Traditional (arr. Clydesdale)                            “Kum Ba Yah”

Adolph-Charles Adam (arr. Smith)                                “O Holy Night”

Traditional (arr. Keveren)                                 “Amazing Grace”

Supported by Bayer Fund.

The SLSO IN UNISON Chorus returns for a beloved tradition on December 8, the Gospel Christmas concert with the SLSO, led by Chorus Director Kevin McBeth at Stifel Theatre. Joining the IN UNISON Chorus is baritone Wintley Phipps, whose silky-smooth voice highlights the soulful stylings of holiday music. Supported by Bayer Fund since 1994, the IN UNISON Chorus performs and preserves music from the African diaspora. 

Jason Seber

Home Alone in Concert

Saturday, December 9, 7:00pm CST
Sunday, December 10, 2:00pm CST
Stifel Theatre
1400 Market Street, St. Louis, Missouri, 63103

Jason Seber, conductor

Webster University Chorale | Trent Patterson, director

John Williams                                        Home Alone

Back by popular demand, the SLSO performs John Williams’ iconic score to Home Alone live to the hilarious and heartwarming holiday classic at Stifel Theatre on December 9-10. When the McCallisters leave for vacation, they forgot one thing: Kevin! Discover an experience the whole family can share. Limited tickets are available for this holiday favorite.

Mercy Holiday Celebration

Tuesday, December 12, 7:30pm CST
Wednesday, December 13, 7:30pm CST
J. Scheidegger Center for the Arts at Lindenwood University
2300 W. Clay St., St. Charles, Missouri, 63301

Saturday, December 16, 2:00pm & 7:30pm CST
Sunday, December 17, 2:00pm CST
Stifel Theatre
1400 Market Street, St. Louis, Missouri, 63103

Stuart Malina, conductor

Scarlett Strallen, vocals (SLSO debut)

Cally Banham, English horn

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (arr. Baynes)        Christmas Overture

George Wyle (arr. Clydesdale)                        “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year”

James Pierpont (arr. Waldin)                          “Jingle Bells”

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (arr. Ellington/Strayhorn; orch. Tyzik) Selection from The Nutcracker Suite

Irving Berlin (arr. Maness)                                               “White Christmas”

Richard Rodgers (arr. Bennett)                       “My Favorite Things” from The Sound of Music

Adolphe Adam (arr. Clydesdale)                    “O Holy Night”

Various (arr. Stephenson)                                                 A Charleston Christmas

Traditional (arr. Tyzik)                                        Chanukah Suite

Tom Lehrer (arr. Malina)                                   “Chanukah in Santa Monica”

J. Fred Coots (arr. Holcombe)                         “Santa Claus in Coming to Town”

Sergei Prokofiev                                                   “Troika” from Lieutenant Kijé Suite

Leroy Anderson                                                    Sleigh Ride

Felix Bernard (arr. Harper; orch. Blank)      “Winter Wonderland”

Various (arr. Waldin)                                          “The Christmas Song/Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas”

Various (arr. Stephenson)                                 A Holly and Jolly Sing-Along!

Presented by Mercy.

The SLSO and conductor Stuart Malina bring the music of the holiday season to the stage at Stifel Theatre and Lindenwood University in St. Charles for a cherished holiday tradition—the Mercy Holiday Celebration. Full of favorite carols and sounds of the season, this year the orchestra will be joined by special guests, Broadway and West End veteran vocalist Scarlett Strallen and SLSO English horn player Cally Banham. Even Santa makes time for these festive concerts December 12-13 (Lindenwood) and December 16-17 (three concert at Stifel Theatre)! 

Back to the Future in Concert

Thursday, December 28, 7:00pm CST
Friday, December 29, 7:00pm CST
Stifel Theatre
1400 Market Street, St. Louis, Missouri, 63103

Norman Huynh, conductor

Alan Silvestri                                          Back to the Future

Recharge your flux capacitor…and get ready to celebrate the unforgettable 1985 classic, Back to the Future, with the SLSO performing Alan Silvestri’s score live as the film plays on Stifel Theatre’s big screen on December 28-29. Back to the Future topped the box office chart, spawned two wildly successful sequels, and stamped an enduring imprint on pop culture. Join Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox), Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd), and a time traveling DeLorean for the adventure of a lifetime.

Jimmie Herrod

New Year’s Eve Celebration

Sunday, December 31, 7:30pm CST
Stifel Theatre
1400 Market Street, St. Louis, Missouri, 63103

Norman Huynh, conductor

Jimmie Herrod, vocals (SLSO debut)

Repertoire announced from the stage.

Send 2023 off in style at the SLSO’s annual bash—the New Year’s Eve Celebration concert. Frequent guest conductor Norman Huynh leads this musical party filled with surprises. Although the repertoire is a secret, it’s sure to be a fun-filled evening with the SLSO and guest vocalist Jimmie Herrod, a Pink Martini and America’s Got Talent alumnus. This one-night-only concert takes place at the stylish Stifel Theatre on December 31.

About the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra

Celebrated as one of today’s most exciting and enduring orchestras, the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra is the second-oldest orchestra in the country, marking its 144th year with the 2023/2024 season and its fifth with Stéphane Denève, The Joseph and Emily Rauh Pulitzer Music Director. Widely considered one of the leading American orchestras, the Grammy® Award-winning SLSO maintains its commitment to artistic excellence, educational impact, and community collaborations—all in service to its mission of enriching lives through the power of music. 

The transformational expansion and renovation of its historic home, Powell Hall, slated to be completed in 2025, builds on the institution’s momentum as a civic leader in convening individuals, creators, and ideas, while fostering a culture welcoming to all. Committed to building community through compelling and inclusive musical experiences, the SLSO continues its longstanding focus on equity, diversity, inclusion, and access, embracing its strengths as a responsive, nimble organization, while investing in partnerships locally and elevating its presence globally. For more information, visit

Jelena Dirks, oboe

About the University of Missouri–St. Louis Touhill Performing Arts Center

Designed by the renowned architectural firm I.M. Pei, Cobb, Freed and Partners, the Blanche M. Touhill Performing Arts Center is a landmark performance facility on the campus of the University of Missouri-St. Louis (UMSL). The Center hosts an average of 120 events, 200 performances, and 90,000 visitors per year.

The Touhill staff manages several collaborative relationships and programs that, along with campus and community partners, bring together a diverse season of dance, theatre, music, festivals, and special events.

About Stifel Theatre

Stifel Theatre is a historic, 3,100 seat theatre in the heart of downtown St. Louis. Originally opened in 1934, Stifel Theatre’s stage has welcomed some of entertainment’s greatest performers and was the primary venue for the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra from 1934-1968. Following a $78.7 million restoration, this historical gem has been restored to its original splendor and undergone state-of-the-art upgrades.

Stifel Theatre plays host to a wide variety of events, including concerts, comedies, theatricals, family shows, holiday productions, and more.

Norman Huynh, conductor

By Lynn Venhaus

Women of privilege but not power in a male-dominated world has been a theme in other Sofia Coppola films, and “Priscilla” fits that mold in its look at the heavily documented superstar life of The King of Rock ‘n Roll, but from his sheltered bride’s perspective.

More style than substance, “Priscilla” could be considered a companion piece to last year’s flashier, bolder “Elvis,” and presents snapshots of the Presleys’ relationship, only hinting at deeper issues instead of delving into them.

That keeps the pair at arm’s length, meaning we don’t invest emotionally – although the performers convey believable characters. Portraying the sweet, naïve Priscilla Beaulieu, Cailee Spaeny is a stunner in a breakthrough role. As the sultry superstar, Jacob Elordi, as he has done as the bad-boy jock in “Euphoria,” implies a complexity to the singer-matinee idol that isn’t explored.

Yet, the movie is named after the homesick schoolgirl who was thrust into an intoxicating whirlwind romance that she was incapable of understanding because of her not-fully-formed emotional development (and his). After all, he was 24 and she was 14 when they met while he was stationed in the Army in Germany and her stepfather was an officer. If you fast forward 60 years later, and the couple never would have survived today’s harsh social media scrutiny.

Whether intentionally or not, Elvis doesn’t come across in the best light if we’re looking through a modern lens. Did he groom her and take advantage of an underage girl? Or were feelings pure and the connection on a different level?

But, of course, their era was a very different time in gender politics. They were married from 1967 to 1973, first meeting in 1959. After Elvis’s death in 1977,at age 42, Priscilla took over the reins of his legacy, and became generally regarded as a savvy businesswoman. She also had an acting career, most notably in “The Naked Gun” movies and on TV’s “Dallas.”

Elvis Presley Enterprises, which represents the trust and the physical estate Graceland, denied using his music catalogue for the film. Priscilla is the co-founder and former chairperson, and serves as an executive producer of this film. Music supervisor Phoenix is left to needle-drops of the time period.

In a moody, evocative way, benefitting from cinematographer Philippe Le Sourd’s lens, writer-director Coppola has created a fairy-tale fantasy, where an impressionable girl lives a surreal teenage dream. Elvis treats the dainty teenager like a doll, making sure she dresses in a certain way and creating her look according to his specifications.

Coppola has mined this point of view before, as the phrase “women in a gilded cage” has been used to describe her previous films – “The Virgin Suicides,” “Somewhere,” and “Marie Antoinette.” Coppola can and has defied expectations, for she followed up a widely panned acting turn in “The Godfather Part III” as Michael Corleone’s daughter Mary in 1990 with “The Virgin Suicides” in 1999, eventually winning an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for 2003’s “Lost in Translation.”

Similar to what happens to Cinderella and the handsome prince (“I was raised to be charming, not sincere”) when reality sets in during the second act of “Into the Woods,” we view a paradise lost. You can feel Priscilla’s crushing loneliness while she attends an all-girls Catholic high school in Memphis and “keeps the home fires burning” at Graceland while he was touring or making movies or hanging with his TCB entourage. The suffocating oppression is as obvious as Xanadu in “Citizen Kane” yet the film barely touches the surface of the corrupting over-indulgence.

The production design by Tamara Deverell, who has worked on several of Guillermo del Toro’s films, is meticulous in its gaudy, retro stylings of Graceland and the high life in Las Vegas. Costume designer Stacey Battat has created marvelous vintage looks for every character, but her work dressing Priscilla is exquisite in its array of colors, textures, and tiny details.

Spaeny, who played the teen who went missing in “Mare of Easttown” and has been in minor roles, shows how that isolation manifests in her character, and how she transforms from a blank slate into what Elvis wanted and expected in a wife.

At 6’ 5”, Elordi is a striking Elvis, and conveys a more human side of the legend we think we know. While a lavish lifestyle is depicted, he portrays the King as a country boy trying to navigate the pitfalls of fame whose ego has a hard time shaking off slights. He’s attempting to live up to an image he thinks he should – wine, women, song – while compartmentalizing his home life.

It would have been interesting to address more of Priscilla’s side, as she finally gets enough gumption to leave, but the film ends abruptly – just as Priscilla is coming into her own as a person. She was 28 then.

The source material is Priscilla’s memoir “Elvis and Me” from 1986, which recalls the intimate details of their private life while living a very public lifestyle. The movie indicates nuggets of truth behind the tabloid rumors, and refers to, but glosses over, his peccadillos.

But the biggest omission is getting a sense that the two had an unbreakable bond that continued after his death, which Priscilla has maintained.

While fascinating, “Priscilla” is an incomplete work, and needed more to fill in the blanks.

“Priscilla” is a 2023 biographical drama-romance, written and directed by Sofia Coppola and starring Cailee Spaeny, Jacob Elordi, Ari Cohen and Dagmara Dominczyk. It is rated R for drug use and some language, and runs 1 hour, 50 minutes. It opened in theaters November 3. Lynn’s Grade: B-

By Lynn Venhaus
A working artist who explores femininity in visuals ranging from collages to short films, Taylor Yocom is one to watch — and on the move, so it seems fitting that Lambert International Airport has displayed her art — an installation “My mom said to always have flowers around.”

Flowers are a focus, a fashion statement, and part of her signature style. Her recent 19-minute film, “These Flowers Are For You,” won Best Experimental Film at the St. Louis Filmmakers Showcase in July, and is among the short films being screened at the St. Louis International Film Festival.

It has been doing well on the festival circuit. In fact, last week, her film screened in three places, from Iowa to Iceland — at the Flat Earth Film Festival in Iceland and the Des Moines Underground Film Festival in addition to SLIFF (Sunday, Nov. 12, 7:15 p.m., as part of the shorts program “Showcase I,” Alamo Drafthouse 3).

Describing it as her most ambitious film to date, it depicts Yocom’s experience of being matched as a bone marrow donor. She narrates her emotional journey and artistic process of grappling with the ethics of making work for, and about, a stranger.

2020-03-11—Portraits of Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts staff members.

Her previous short films touch on issues of femininity, the idea of craft and artistic labor amid a pandemic, and revisiting a project recollecting Maria Schneider’s sexual harassment on the set of “Last Tango in Paris” — “Just because!” – 3 minutes, which screened at the Citygarden; “Flowers/distance” – 8 minutes; “That floral wallpaper” – 13 minutes; and “In Paris, I tango for Maria (take 2) – 9 minutes.

The art at Lambert — in the Southwest Airlines Terminal, was on a 60-foot pink wall, and installed in April 2022.

Taylor was born in Des Moines, Iowa, and holds a BFA in Photography from the University of Iowa and an MFA in Visual Arts from Washington University’s Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts.

Her work has been exhibited and screened in venues across North America, including Indie Memphis, FilmDiaryNYC, The Kansas Union Gallery, and the Montreal Feminist Film Festival. She has artist books and zines in collections across the country, including Rutgers University, the MOMA Library and Washington University. Her residencies include ArtFarm Nebraska and Internationale de Arts in Paris.

For more information, visit her website:

Take Ten Q and A with Taylor Yocom

(Editor’s note: This was written during the St. Louis Filmmakers Showcase last summer)

1. What is special about your latest project?

My latest film is about my journey of being matched as a bone marrow donor, the artistic documentation of that journey, and my own self reflection of the ethics of making work about a stranger. I was matched to donate to a woman who had leukemia like my maternal grandma that I never got to meet. Going through this process and making this film was an unexpected way to get closer to my mom and learn about her experience with her mother during her final days. 

2. Why did you choose your profession/pursue the arts?

I am currently an artist and filmmaker working in photography, collage, fibers, and film. I always was “crafty” as a kid and started to really take art seriously when I navigated towards photography and art in college. I would spend Friday nights at my typewriter and stack of magazines, making collages, and would bring my film camera to parties. Taking classes for fun turned into a minor, which turned into a major, and then I went to grad school for my MFA in Visual Art at the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts at Washington University in St. Louis.

3. How would your friends describe you?

Upbeat, always working on a project, most likely wearing a floral dress and talking about my cat too much. 

4. How do you like to spend your spare time?

“I built my own loom and now enjoy weaving and watching ‘Sex and the City’ on repeat at my studio. 

5. What is your current obsession?

This $7 bag of very good gummy bears I got on sale at Schnucks! On a more serious note, I’m diving into learning about jacquard weaving and just devoured the book “Thread Ripper” by Amalie Smith. 

6. What would people be surprised to find out about you?

I was on the debate team in high school.

7. Can you share one of your most defining moments in life?

I was registering for classes during freshman year and thought “why not?” and took the last slot for an art class,

8. Who do you admire most?

Ah, so many! Within the arts I would definitely choose Moyra Davey, the filmmaker and artist. She has a very smart, poetic yet research-driven practice and lives in the art-writing-film world in an impactful way. 

9. What is at the top of your bucket list?

Make a feature-length film.

10. How were you affected by the pandemic years, and anything you would like to share about what got you through and any lesson learned during the isolation periods? Any reflections on how the arts were affected? And what it means to move forward?

I was very privileged to be able to work from home during that time with minimal financial impact, so I want to acknowledge that not everyone had that luxury. As for the arts, for me, I took it as an opportunity to slow down and focus on the act of making. I think there was more of an appreciation for art-for-arts-sake and the power of beautiful and moving objects to create meaning in our lives. 

11. What is your favorite thing to do in St. Louis?

I love getting lost in the galleries at SLAM and also visiting Moonshine the horse in Tower Grove Park. 

12. What’s next?

I received a RAC grant to go to Vancouver to learn Jacquard weaving! I am working on patterns I’ve drawn that are based on floral patterns I’ve found in vintage periodicals at the Dowd Illustration Research Archive here. I’ll be making them into tapestries!

Photo by Kalaija Mallery

More About Taylor Yocom
Age: 30
Birthplace: Des Moines, Iowa
Current location: St. Louis:
Education: MFA in Visual Art at the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts at Washington University in St. Louis, BFA in Photography from the University of Iowa
First movie you were involved in or made: In Paris, I tango for Maria (take 2) was my first short film
Favorite jobs/roles/plays or work in your medium? I love films by Agnes Varda.
Awards/Honors/Achievements: Bustle Upstart Awardee in 2016, Residency at Cite Internationale des Arts in 2018
Favorite quote/words to live by: Anything from Julia Cameron
A song that makes you happy: Dancing Queen by Abba

“My mom said to always have flowers around” artwork by Taylor Yocom in installation at Lambert International Airport Terminal 2, April 2022.