9.21.2017

Television: The Orville, "Command Performance"

I figured out part of what bothers me about this show (at least thus far, given it's all of two episodes into its run). The characters are constructed as very plug-and-play. They don't have depth. The whole thing is plot driven, and since the plots are formulaic and cliché, there's really very little to engage me as a viewer.

For one thing, they have already done the Ed-and-Kelly thing to death in less than two hours of show. Like, we get it. And we're already sick of it. STFU. Because you've made us care exactly not at all about you as people or your relationship past or present.

Oh, and look: the cute little prodigy of a security officer struggles when put in command? Bah. Don't care about her or her problems either.

The show is going to have to work a hell of a lot harder to form a connection between the audience and the characters. Instead, it wants us to just take things at face value. "This is a really smart, strong girl." Uh... Okay.... So? You can tell me that, and even show me that, but it won't make me care.

This guy sits on his egg and it hatches and—gasp!—it's a female baby, something that shouldn't exist! Don't care, don't care, don't care. You've barely introduced me to the character, you haven't shown me his relationship with his S.O., and you expect me to give a damn about their baby? Nope.

I usually try to give shows three episodes. I'm not sure I can choke down another one of these however. It's just so stale and has nothing new or interesting to say. Nor is it saying anything we've already heard in a new or interesting way. It feels like empty calories. I've got better things to do and better shows to watch.

9.20.2017

Center Stage

Hey! I'm here to toot my own horn a little and direct you to the author spotlight on SF Benson's site, where yours truly is being featured. 😀  I hope you'll pop over and read about my weirdest stories, the ones hardest to write, and which of my characters reflect me. Leave questions and comments here or there!

9.19.2017

Television: The Magicians, "Unauthorized Magic"

Okay, I know I'm really late to this particular party, but several people have suggested I try this show, so I decided to, uh, try this show. I watched the first episode last night, and . . . I don't know.

The Magicians is about a socially awkward grad student named Quentin who basically gets admitted to the American university equivalent of Hogwarts, I guess? Brakebills. ::shrug:: There is the requisite nerdy girl who, for all her primness, apparently can't find dresses that go past mid-thigh, and she has something against leggings to cover the rest of her. She's also unnecessarily unkind, though I'm sure we'll learn all kinds of things to make her more sympathetic. In this episode we discover her brother Charlie died and no one will tell her what happened to him, so she tries to contact him but it ends badly. Namely, it ends with some guy partially made of giant moths stepping through a mirror. We know he's bad because, well, moths, but also he messes up clocks, freezes everyone (though they're cognizant of being frozen, so it's not really like stopping time), and pulls the dean's eyes out.

Meanwhile, Quentin's overachiever friend from the normal world Julia was rejected from Brakebills and it's messed her up. She's not used to being rejected because she's good at everything and therefore always accepted. It turns out Julia does have a modicum of magical talent, and so a rival group swoops in and admits her into its ranks. It doesn't take much foresight to guess Julia and Quentin are being set up as rivals and/or potential enemies.

I don't know. There's something very pedantic about the whole thing. My understanding is that The Magicians is based on a book (or books), but that it's fairly different from the source material, too? I might need to look into that. As it stands, I don't find Quentin an endearing or compelling central character. And his hair annoys me. It's hard to watch a show with a lead character I don't want to look at, one that is so whiny and irritating.

That said, as you know, I try to give everything at least three episodes. I don't know *when* I'll circle back to this one, but Netflix will at least remind me I watched it. Once upon a time.

9.17.2017

Movies: Baby Driver

As a rule, I generally really enjoy Edgar Wright movies. This one is no exception.

Ansel Elgort plays the titular Baby, whose job is to drive a getaway car for Doc (Kevin Spacey). Baby is evidently in Doc's debt and digging his way out via this gig. But of course one is never really "out." So just as Baby is getting his life straight and trying to have a steady girlfriend, he gets pulled back in for one more big job. That goes all to hell. Yes, it's cliché. But still an engaging story. Jon Hamm and Jamie Foxx pull nice turns as badass baddies.

Wright has, in my opinion, a wonderful style. For me, watching his films is a treat. His tracking shots, the way he frames things—just very visually interesting and entertaining. But he's not perfect at everything. He's weak when it comes to love stories. I didn't love the one in this film, particularly the early banter between Baby and Deborah in the diner. Wright also tends to have very long third acts that sometimes go on longer than absolutely necessary. I found that, despite all the action going on, my interest began to waver.

[SPOILER BELOW - HIGHLIGHT TO READ CLEARLY]

I understand why the film ends the way it does, with Baby going to prison rather than he and Deborah taking off. I think Wright wanted the definitive, "happy" ending that showed Baby and Deborah free and clear instead of on the run for the rest of their lives. I get that, but I found it not terribly satisfying. I don't know why.

[END SPOILER]

These are minor gripes. On the whole, Baby Driver is highly entertaining, and all the actors do an awesome job. Another winner from Mr. Wright in my book.

9.13.2017

Television: The Orville, "Old Wounds"

Okay, so . . . I'm a fan of Star Trek. Have been since I was a kid. Loved the original movies, made my parents rent the VHS tapes of the original series so I could watch that too. (Remember when not everything was streaming?) The Next Generation was my favorite. My first fan conventions were Trek conventions, which I went to with friends and, on one occasion, with my journalism teacher. So, you know, that's my pedigree. I'm a Trekker or Trekkie or whatever we call ourselves nowadays.

As for The Orville, well, I have seriously mixed feelings.

Seth MacFarlane stars as Ed Mercer. The year is 2417, and apparently over the course of 400 years we've really upped our technology and met a massive number of alien species. Okay, fine, I wouldn't poke at Star Trek for this, so I won't flag The Orville for it either. But I think maybe I no longer have the optimism that I used to, the belief that the human race was "going places." (Besides straight to hell.)

The opening scene is just so standard and cliché that I could hardly stand it. Mercer comes back to his quarters to find his wife in bed with a blue alien. Ugh.

Fast forward a year and he's being offered command of the titular Orville. And—wait for it, cuz you'll be astounded—the ex is his XO. (No, not Kiss Hug. It means "Executive Officer.")

So much of the exposition is in dialogue it's tragic. And the story is so rote it's, well, double tragic. And Mercer's best friend Gordon Mallory, whom he hires as a helmsman, is pretty unlikeable. When he's introduced, he's not too terrible; he comes off as a bit nerdy in a Simon Pegg way. But when he "drives drunk" in the next scene, he gets frat-boy obnoxious and my enjoyment of the show spiraled downward like the stupid shuttle. Exhibiting drinking and driving as "cool" is not a great move.

Part of my problem with the show, too, is that it doesn't quite seem to know what it wants to be. A parody? Straight comedy? Or an actual sci-fi show? There are elements of all these things, and I'm not saying these things can't work together, but as presented they don't appear to be stirred into the same soup. That's a weird metaphor, but I don't know how else to explain it. Sci-fi soup with chunks of comedy? Could be tasty but, as far as this episode goes, the blend isn't quite right.

The Orville is a throwback kind of show, which as far as I can tell is the intention. I'm just not sure how many people will make the time for it, or appreciate where it's coming from, particularly in the current television landscape. We have amazing shows, stuff that is better than movies (as the summer box office shows). In comparison, The Orville might come across as that dented can of off-brand beans at the bottom of the grocery shelf. If the price is right and you're desperate enough, you might buy it?

That said, I'll give it another couple episodes to see if it finds its footing. Many shows start out rough, particularly the sci-fi ones. There's something promising in The Orville, I'm just not sure what yet. Or whether it will live up to that promise.

9.09.2017

Movies: Kong: Skull Island

Even the title sounds more like a video game . . .

Look, I'm not really into this kind of movie, but I'll watch Tom Hiddleston in just about anything. (I say "just about" because I did try to watch High-Rise and, ugh, no.) But this movie, well, it was pretty much what one would expect, which means it bored me.

Let's start with an overview. The Monarch company (repped by John Goodman and Corey Hawkins) wants to go to this island that no one goes to because it has a perpetual storm raging around it. Ships and planes get lost out there. But whatever, they talk some senator into funding them and giving them military support. So Samuel L. Jackson and his band of home-bound Vietnam vets get detoured into this gig, and Tom Hiddleston gets hired as a tracker, which apparently is just a living compass, meaning he's supposed to keep people from getting lost? And Brie Larson is there as an "anti-war" photographer, which begs the question why a military operation would hire her? But we all know she's really just there to be the Fay Wray.

You'll notice I'm using the actors' names instead of characters, and that's because this is the kind of movie where there are so many characters that one can't be arsed. It's the kind of movie where, as you watch, you say, "Oh, Samuel L. Jackson is about to..." and "John Goodman is about to bite it." You don't bother with character names. Because you're not into these characters at all. The movie tries—I'll give it that. It tries very hard to make you care about these people. But you just don't.

And Tom, much as I love him, walks around with a pretty vacant expression most of the time. He's probably reminding himself how much money he's making for this, that it will all be worth it in the end, no matter how bad the movie ends up being.

It's not a bad movie. Let me be clear. It's just not great, either.

I take issue with Samuel L. Jackson's role as a caricature with little depth. I take issue with the clunky dialogue. I feel like John C. Reilly's scenes came from some other movie entirely, but okay. ::shrug:: He's, like, the best thing in the movie, so I kinda wanted the John C. Reilly movie instead of all the rest, but whatever.

What's very nice is that this movie is 1 hour and 58 minutes long. It's not some epic length. That felt refreshing. Though I guess it's pretty sad when you count the fact that the movie ends earlier than expected as a bonus.

9.02.2017

Documentary: David Lynch: The Art Life

Love him or hate him, David Lynch is certainly an interesting guy.

A little background so you know where I'm coming from: when I was a pre-teen, I remember liking the movie Dune. (Yes, I said "liked.") My best friend's mom showed it to her daughter and me. The long version. It enthralled me. I bought a poster and hung it in my room. I read the books (well, the first three). But I didn't know who David Lynch was.

Twin Peaks aired my freshman year of high school. I really enjoyed it, too . . . Or the first season, anyway. It's been a long time, but I have the sense that I wasn't as enthusiastic about the second season. At that point I had a scrapbook and would cut out articles about my favorite stars and shows and tape them in. So of course I began seeing the name David Lynch in the Twin Peaks articles. But I never connected him to Dune, never had much curiosity about anything else he might have done.

Then I went to film school.

Enough said, except to add that aside from Dune and Twin Peaks, I can't say I'm much of a fan of Lynch's work. Not my thing. In fact, this third season of Twin Peaks—I walked away from it. It tried my patience too much. I'll probably still watch the finale on Sunday though.

So. This documentary. I actually really enjoyed it. It's very watchable. It's really just Lynch doing art and telling stories that go from his childhood through his grant at AFI to make Eraserhead. It focuses on his art, so there's no delving into his personal life, just sort of a glossing, but there are lots of photos and home videos incorporated.

DL:TAL is really just Lynch talking, and he speaks in a deceptively simple and matter-of-fact way. It's as though all his internal complexities come out in his work, but it's not clear whether that's because he saves them for the work or he literally can't articulate them any other way. A couple of things he says and stories he tells . . . You kind of go, "Oh, well that explains a few things."

I believe art should stand on its own in the absence of its creator. That's the point of art. You shouldn't have to know things about the writer, painter, etc. in order to appreciate the work. BUT. Watching this documentary added depth for me to some of Lynch's work.

At one point Lynch says that, when he was starting out as an artist, he knew his work was crap. But that he had to keep painting and keep painting to find his style or whatever. And as an author, I totally get that. We all start out crap. You have to prime the pump and get all the dirty water out before the good stuff comes up.

Anyway, whether you like Lynch or not . . . If you're even just a little curious about him . . . This is a good one. They don't talk to anyone but Lynch, so it is a bit one-sided, but at the same time, hearing solely from him gives perspective on his work.

9.01.2017

Podcasts: James Bonding part deux

Because apparently today is my day to blog about podcasts.

I've written about James Bonding before, and then it went away for a while and I was sad and sort of shiftless, but now it's back! So go find it on Earwolf or whatever. (I can't be arsed with branding. One day it might matter where my podcasts come from, but today is not that day.)

So why am I mentioning it again, you ask? Well, I just listened to the episode where Matt and Matt and Paul Scheer detail their ideas for a James Bond theme park. And I had some thoughts about that.

  1. The first hotel has got to be called HQ. It's somewhat basic, but that's just the starter hotel. It's the Disneyland Hotel for Bond, nothing fancy, just somewhat themed—the padded leather doors in the M Suite or whatever. Then you can branch out to the upscale hotels like Casino Royale.
  2. When you arrive at the park, you're given a dossier. It's like a daily itinerary or one of those passport type things where you have to get something stamped, you have to get photos of something or find someone.
  3. You are not Bond. You are an agent of some other number, possibly tasked with aiding Bond or finding him.
  4. There is a park-specific villain. Yes, the other villains will also be showcased, but the theme park has its very own story and unique villain. We can't lean on Blofeld for everything.
  5. There are multiple ways to enter the park based on (a) which hotel you're staying in and (b) where in the park you want to go first.
  6. Yes to areas themed by environment. There are too many movies to do a separate area for each, so we'll have to Epcot the place and divide it by location. Bond is a world-hopper, after all.
  7. 007 Land? 007 World?

I think I need to be on this podcast. I think I need Matt & Matt to help me flesh out my next Peter Stoller novel, or really a Jules Maier novel, since he's my Bond character.

Follow James Bonding on Twitter: @JamesBondingPOD

ETA: We just re-watched Skyfall, which is probably my favorite of the Daniel Craig Bond movies (with Casino Royale a close second), and we decided Silva must get his henchmen from calls to Spectre. They have some kind of service, right? "Yes, I need half a dozen men dressed as Met police, oh and a helicopter..."

Podcasts: No Extra Words

Complete with minor demon disguised as cat.
Hey! So I'm on a podcast today, giving a virtual tour of Little London (my home office). Curious minds should click here.

8.26.2017

Books: Handbook for Mortals Controversy

Cross posted from PepperWords.


I won't go into the details—there are plenty of articles all over the 'net that will give you the blow by blow if you want it—but the basic story is this: a new YA novel titled Handbook for Mortals suddenly turned up in the #1 spot of the NYT Bestsellers List. That's not so outrageous, one supposes. Nothing can stay at #1 forever, and The Hate U Give had been there a while. But this was a book and author no one had heard of. It hadn't climbed the list, it just sort of appeared. Like magic.

Some curious parties went sleuthing and discerned that someone—the author, her publisher, maybe the would-be producer of the film version of this book—had gamed the system by calling NYT-reporting bookstores and placing bulk orders for HFM. Never mind that physical copies of the book are not available (or weren't at the time). Apparently whoever was ordering all these books "for an event" wasn't concerned about, you know, not having them. ??? Seems weird. Especially since every order came in at just under the number of books that would have flagged the order as a corporate sale.

The nail in the coffin seems to have come from associates at the bookstores who mentioned being asked whether they were NYT-reporting stores before the mysterious caller(s) placed the order. Way to be subtle, yo.

The author, Lani Sarem, denies any knowledge of such antics. She says they had encouraged stores to order in bulk in advance of upcoming events and conventions. She also says the marketing for the book has been targeted at said conventions, which is why the book wasn't well-known in wider YA circles. In other words, just because no one has heard of her in one circle doesn't mean she can't sell a bunch of books. Because there's more than one circle.

Though, usually, if something is getting traction at conventions and such, I feel like the publishing world keeps track of that too. The publishing community is seldom sideswiped by something or someone in its blind spot.

That said, I got curious. I wondered if maybe HFM was just a really good book, an underground hit rising to the top. So I went and read the free sample on Amazon.

Um . . .

No.

It's really not very good. (That being my personal opinion, of course.) Boy does she love the word "basically." And the author seems keen to hawk her ties to the entertainment industry and all her famous friends. Much of the criticism lodged at Sarem and her book is based on the idea the "marketing" (aka, the buying of a top spot on the NYT list) was designed to launch investor interest in the movie version rather than sell the book at all. Per IMDb, the main character will be played by Sarem herself. Which is probably why the book reads like a bad Mary Sue story.

But here's the truth: publishing isn't a meritocracy. Good books aren't always what sell. Great writers are often buried by popular trash. Someone who takes the time to lovingly craft a story is going to get run over by the writer churning out half-baked manuscripts because these days it's quantity over quality if you want to make any kind of money.

This isn't to say you shouldn't take the time to write a good book, get it edited, etc. I'm just pointing out that readers aren't always as picky as the writing community. All writers should be readers, but not all readers are writers, and the readers who aren't writers aren't looking at all the details writers do. Anyone can admire a beautiful house, but a builder is going to look for the nuts and bolts. Or whatever houses have.

I will say, the cover of HFM leaves one to wonder whether artist Gill Del-Mace gave permission to have his work adapted? Per the copyright page, they did at least get permission for some song lyrics.

Do I think HFM tried to game the system? Evidence points that way, but who knows? Maybe there are people really buying and reading the book. It hardly matters now since the NYT revised their list and restored The Hate U Give to the #1 spot. Handbook for Mortals is MIA.

8.22.2017

Movies: Logan Lucky

Starring: Channing Tatum, Adam Driver, Daniel Craig, Riley Keough
Directed By: Steven Soderbergh
Written By: Rebecca Blunt (?)
Bleeker Street, 2017
PG-13; 119 minutes
4 stars (out of 5)


_______________________________________________________

An cinema employee called this, "a hick Italian Job," and that about sums it up, I suppose. It lacks the slickness or sophistication of something like Ocean's Eleven, but it's fun in its own way.

Channing Tatum plays Jimmy Logan, a down-on-his-luck West Virginian whose brother Clyde (Adam Driver) believes their family is cursed. Clyde is himself a one-handed bartender, having lost his left hand and forearm during two tours in Iraq.

When Jimmy's ex-wife tells him she and her new husband are moving—and taking Jimmy's daughter Sadie with them—Jimmy's determination to be able to stay close prompts him to hatch a plan to rob the motor speedway. With the help of Joe Bang (Daniel Craig doing a fair, if somewhat uneven, job of a Southern accent), Joe's brothers, and their own sister Mellie, Jimmy and Clyde set the heist in motion.

I expected this to be funnier, but it certainly has its moments. The pacing is a little weird, and there are some half-baked subplots that either needed more cooking time or should have been left out of the ingredients list entirely. But on the whole, the movie is enjoyable and serves up more or less exactly what is stated on the menu.

Best scene: Game of Thrones argument. Runner up: Joe Bang explains science.

This isn't one that needs to be seen on the big screen, but it is a fun little film. Too bad it opened opposite The Hitman's Bodyguard because, while I think the two movies are very different, they'd likely have some audience overlap. And THB is certainly the glossier, shinier bit of celluloid. (No, not literally. I know it's all digital now.) So I think more people went for that one than this. Not having seen THB yet, I can't compare, but Logan Lucky is worth consideration.

8.20.2017

The Great American Eclipse 2017

Just in case some of you are idiots—and I hope not, I mean, I don't want to believe that, but better to err on the side of caution—let's be clear:

IT IS NEVER SAFE TO LOOK AT THE SUN

No, not even when it's being eclipsed.

No, not even if you peer through your fingers or a slotted spoon or something.

No, not even if you use a mirror. In fact, that's probably worse.

No, not through a telescope; that's definitely worse. (Unless you have a solar telescope specifically designed for looking at the sun, and no, you don't.)

If you don't have eclipse glasses (and if you do, please verify they're not bogus), there are some ways to make your own viewers. Find a reputable site and follow the instructions. Try here if you're too lazy to look it up yourself.

Please don't be an idiot. Enjoy the eclipse safely.

ETA:



Are you f'ing kidding me? What did I just say???

8.16.2017

I'm going to pause here for something rather serious. There's a lot of news flying around about racism, white supremacists, etc. Let me just say . . . I grew up in the American South. Privileged if not by sex then at least by skin color. If the homosexual kids I went to school with feared for their lives, I never thought about it. If the black kids I went to school with had a more difficult time, I never thought about that either. Same for any Jewish kids, Muslim kids . . . I couldn't even say whether I knew any Jewish or Muslim kids.

THAT'S PRIVILEGE.

Not having to think about things like that. Being blind to the difficulties others may face for whatever reason—skin color, religion, sexual orientation.

I'm not proud of it. I'm sorry that it's taken all this to fully open my understanding. I never wished any of my black, homosexual, or differently religious friends any harm. But my lack of interest—my indifference—may have been harmful in the same way neglect can be.

I can't change who I was, but I can change who I am.

And while I'll never fully comprehend what others live with day to day, I can be here for them.

We must think about it.

About them.

About our friends and neighbors of every color, orientation and creed.

We can't hope for things to just get better somehow. We can't shrug and say, "Well, it's nothing to me."

You feel like your privilege is being threatened? Good. It should be. It's time to really, truly be united. Against hate and ignorance and fear.

8.14.2017

Television: Doctor Who, "Thin Ice"

It's going to take forever for me to get through all the episodes stockpiled on my DVR. Doctor Who just isn't must-watch television for me any more, which kind of makes me sad. It's like I'm trying desperately to care but it's a struggle. There are so many other shows, or even other things to do, that are more appealing.

This episode is a case in point. The Doctor and Bill go to a Frost Fair in London, 1814. (I think it was 1814 anyway. Could be remembering wrong.) There is something large that lives in the Thames and must be fed. There are aristocrats eager to feed it, and the "food" is mainly people of lower classes who are expendable. So . . . social commentary, which is par for the course, but not even very interesting social commentary because it's nothing we haven't heard or seen, nor is it all that original a take. The episode therefore felt very generic.

Meh. This is only the third episode for this season, and while the show is not as bad as it used to be, it's also not as good as it could be. I feel indifferent, which is better than when I felt angry and annoyed, I guess. Then again, when a show can make you feel something, that means you still care. When you cease to feel anything, it means you've stopped caring. Hrm.

8.12.2017

Books (Kind Of): The Adventures of Sel & Am

So I had been doing an exclusive serial story in my author newsletter. But now I'm shuttering that newsletter because I just don't have the time to keep up with it, and of all the social media I do, it really had the lowest ROI. But I don't want to leave readers hanging! So I will be posting The Adventures of Sel & Am on Wattpad. The first part is up nowhttps://www.wattpad.com/story/119342727-the-adventures-of-sel-am (if you are/were a newsletter recipient, you've already read it). More to come.

8.10.2017

Books: The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd

I first became aware of this book during my writing retreat and workshop in France; the agent running the workshop used samples from the book, and those samples were so beautifully written I felt the need to read the whole thing.

The book in its entirety does live up to that first promise. Dual tales are spun: Sarah Grimké, daughter of a wealthy Charleston jurist and plantation owner, and a slave in the Grimké household named Hetty (basket name: Handful). Sarah Grimké was a real person, and Kidd did loads of research then embroidered the story with her lovely prose.

As beautiful as the book is, as well-written as it is, I will admit feeling fatigued toward the end. I sort of wanted it to wrap up already. It's like a movie that goes on just a few minutes too long, you know? Some of that embroidery, some of the lingering on thoughts and moments, was perhaps not all that necessary.

But on the whole I enjoyed it, even if I did skim the last 30 pages. ("Yes, yes, okay, but what happens? Let's just get to that bit.") The bad luck that these two women suffer, both together and singly, at times feels like too much to bear. Still, it's all wrapped in a gorgeous package of beautiful writing, smooth as a hull cutting through calm waters. I admire the craft put into this book, and the research and effort. If a story is a box, this one is artfully carved and gilded. Maybe it didn't need quite so much gold leaf, but it's lovely.

8.06.2017

Movies: The Dark Tower

Starring: Idris Elba, Matthew McConaughey, Tom Taylor
Directed By: Nikolaj Arcel
Written By: Akiva Goldsman, Jeff Pinkner, Anders Thomas Jensen, Nikolaj Arcel (screenplay), based on the books by Stephen King
Sony Pictures, 2017
PG-13; 95 minutes
3 stars (out of 5)


_______________________________________________________

There's a common trope in YA novels these days—fantasy YA novels, that is—where the main character has a dream, or several dreams, that gives him or her important information. That's where The Dark Tower starts, too. Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor) has been seeing a psychiatrist because he keeps having nightmares about a man in black and a, er, dark tower. Everyone assumes the dreams are trauma from having lost his father in a fire a year before, but of course like every good YA story the child is right all along and is the true hero.

While watching The Dark Tower, I was reminded of things like the Percy Jackson books. This really is a young adult story, and I wonder if that is why the critics have taken it so badly. They expected (or wanted) something else?

I read The Gunslinger a very, very long time ago and have little memory of it. Never read any of the other books in the series. So I was able to approach the movie as a mostly clean slate and with little to no expectations. My only thought was: Idris Elba is the coolest guy who ever guy'd, and I like Matty McConaughey, so why not?

It's a short movie, and somewhat perfunctory, by which I mean the parts that should have had the most emotional impact failed to fully land their punches. And the "funny" parts could have been played for more laughs. But for what it is, The Dark Tower is . . . ::shrug:: It's fine. McConaughey hams it up a bit, and his jacket has weird sleeves that I found distracting, but eh. Whatever.

My 11-year-old son, though? He came out of the movie really liking it. Which only reinforced my feeling that it was definitely more a YA story than an adult one.

Lots of fun easter eggs for King fans (and I'm sure I didn't even catch all of them). I can at least say I liked it more than Valerian; I did not at any point get bored as Tower moves along at a brisk clip. Part of me wants to say Elba is wasted here, but at the same time he's so perfect as Roland that, even if he is wasted, we benefit from it. And so does the film.

In short, not as bad as everyone seems to think. Or else I just think differently. Wouldn't be the first time.

8.02.2017

IWSG: August 2017

Cross posted from PepperWords.

It's time again for the Insecure Writer's Support Group! Posts go up the first Wednesday of each month. Read more posts and/or join in here.

Question of the Month: What are your pet peeves when reading/writing/editing?

Well, I used to work in publishing as an editor (and sometimes still do freelance work), so I have a healthy list of peeves. I think the thing to keep in mind is: there's a difference between things that are correct and incorrect versus preferences. Certainly, anything incorrect is annoying, and when an author seems unschooled in basic grammar, that's a problem for the reader. "Bad writing" can therefore be listed as a peeve. But many writers can at least put a sentence together. Some just have "tics"—little writing quirks. You see it in even the most established authors.

I know one writer who is what I call "comma happy." I mean, I use commas pretty freely myself, and this guy outstrips me by a lot. Most of the commas are unnecessary, though not "wrong" per se, though I find reading his work halting because of all the pauses the commas create.

Tense problems are something that bother me, and they're a common problem. Even I make those mistakes. Every peeve I have is one I've committed, probably more than once, at that's what bothers me most.

As for peeves when I'm reading or writing or editing: noise and interruptions, of course!

7.31.2017

7.29.2017

Movies: A Cure for Wellness

There's a genre of movie—I suppose it's a subgenre, really, of horror or thrillers or something—that I call "Hotel California" movies. These are movies in which a central character goes to a place, and spends the rest of the movie trying to get out of that place, but instead gets sucked further into whatever mystery is involved in said place. There are always a number of strange characters involved, and usually one really bad person (who might have a henchman or two). Almost always the main character's sanity comes into question, and there can be an ambiguous ending that leaves the audience wondering.

Done well, you get great movies like The Haunting (1963), though maybe we can thank Shirley Jackson's fabulous novella for that. But most movies in this genre are middling at best, laughable and predictable at worst.

Shutter Island is a Hotel California movie. Crimson Peak kind of is, too. And A Cure for Wellness fits this genre as well.

In this movie, Dane DeHaan plays Lockhart, an ambitious New Yorker sent by his (financial? hardly matters) firm to Germany to fetch back one of the CEOs from some weird health spa he's practically moved into. The spa is situated in the rebuilt remains of an old castle, so of course there is some crazy story to go with it. Two hundred years before, a baron married his sister because she was the only one "pure" enough for him to breed with. The sister got pregnant and the peasants hauled her out of the castle, cut the baby out of her, and tossed it in the river. They burned the sister alive and set fire to the castle. Cuz what else did they have to do back in those days? (Actually, the peasants were just angry because the baron was doing experiments on them and killing them all off.)

From there, the movie takes a predictable course. There is a strange young "patient" named Hannah who likes Lockhart because he's younger than all the usual old people who come to the wellness center. Lockhart, meanwhile, spirals into madness as he tries to (a) find the CEO and convince him to come back to New York, and (b) deal with snakes or eels or whatever is in the water.

Seriously, though, the movie could have been called Something in the Water. Cuz that sums it up pretty well.

A Cure for Wellness is pretty much exactly what I expected. You wouldn't have to know Gore Verbinski directed it to guess it was his work; it's just very Verbinski. Trigger warning, though, for people who might have trouble with rape scenes. And also: that's not how menstruation works. I mean, really, the water doesn't turn into the Red Sea when we get in the bathtub or shower, dude.

I'll admit a liking for these kinds of movies. If you like them, too, you'll probably find this one moderately diverting.


7.28.2017

Books: Help Me Name A Character!

cross-posted from PepperWords


All right. I recently ran a poll on my Facebook page, but for those who didn't see it, here is the summary. I'm trying to decide on the name of the Felidae Clan leader in Changers 2. This character is gender fluid, and I picture xem as Black + Asian. Not that culture really makes a difference in this world, but that's just my mental image of what the character looks like.

In any case, the name needs to be unisex/gender neutral as well.

After the first round of voting, here are the current standings (in order of votes):
  1. Narcisse
  2. Kit
  3. Duri
  4. Fen
  5. Kevyn
The names possibly lean masculine because I think this character is biologically masculine, or was at least born a biological male. But Narcisse in French is used for both girls and boys.

One person commented (okay, the person was my mother, but still) that "Kit" is maybe too obvious/on the nose. But it did receive many votes, so I think it must be popular.

So here's your chance to give me some input! Which of these names do you like most? Or if you have other suggestions, I'm open to hearing them. Let me know in the comments!

7.23.2017

Movies: Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

Starring: Dane DeHaan, Cara Delevingne, Clive Owen, Rihanna
Directed By: Luc Besson
Written By: Luc Besson (screenplay); Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Mézières (comic books)
Europa, 2017
PG-13; 137 minutes
2.5 stars (out of 5)


_______________________________________________________

Look, it's not . . . terrible. It's just not amazing, either, and movies like this need to be amazing.

I haven't read the comic books, so I can't speak to whether this film does them justice. I can only comment on how this movie does on its own. And that is: okay.

First, the story: 30 years after the destruction of the planet Mül, Major Valerian and Sergeant Laureline are given a mission to confiscate a Mül "converter" which is really a cute little creature that, if you feed it things, it poops out lots more of whatever you just fed it. So people are mostly interested in feeding it things like money and jewels. And with the Human economy in the toilet, the government could really use something like that. Cuz I guess just printing more money or something isn't an option.

Converter acquired (after a certain amount of fuss, of course), Valerian and Laureline take it to Alpha, the titular City of a Thousand Planets. Strange things are afoot there as Commander Filitt (Clive Owen) tries to suss out why a radioactive area has suddenly appeared in the center of this station.

Nothing in this movie comes as a surprise; it's fairly rote, a kiddie roller coaster that stays on its tracks and doesn't even go very fast. My eight-year-old loved it. The remainder of my family walked out shrugging. Meh.

Problem areas include:

  • Zero chemistry between the two leads.
  • Clunky, poorly written banter between the two leads.
  • Lack of tension in any scene—action or otherwise.
  • Valerian's "arc" feels fake; we're supposed to believe he's a changed man by the end of the movie, but he doesn't seem any different from when we first meet him.
  • Aforementioned predictability.
  • Lost opportunities that I will discuss under the spoilers heading below.

I didn't really have any expectations going in, so I can't say I was disappointed. I just failed to be wowed.

SPOILERS BELOW

We spend some time on Mül before it is destroyed, and Valerian is then imbued with the soul of the dead princess Lïhio, something that is hardly utilized during the rest of the movie. At the very least, have Laureline call him "Your Highness" or something. Geez.

And after all the talk of the beach, the movie ends with them in some space capsule?
                           
END SPOILERS

The best parts of the movie are the ones without Valerian, or at the very least the ones in which Valerian and Laureline are apart. What does that tell you? DeHaan seemed to be trying for "Discount Leonardo DiCaprio"? For all I know, he's a fabulous actor, but Valerian is not a particularly likable character (and maybe he's not meant to be, maybe the comic character is just as bad), and since, as I mentioned, Valerian's "growth" as a character feels nil in this film, I'm not sure how I'm supposed to feel about him or DeHaan.

In all, Valerian has very little energy behind it. It moves quickly enough from plot point to plot point, but there's no tension. I can't tell if it's the lack of chemistry between the actors, or the weak dialogue, or some combination thereof, but this movie needs a shot in the arm that never comes. Instead it just bobs along . . . Again, it's not the worst thing ever. It's just not all that exciting either.

7.17.2017

Television: The 13th Doctor

I've pretty much actively avoided reading any comments or ongoing debate about the reveal of Jodie Whittaker as the 13th Doctor in the Doctor Who universe. I don't really care what most people think, I guess, and I don't particularly need the input to figure out my own thoughts and feelings about it. Which are:

  1. Yay! Not because it's a woman, specifically, but because at least it's not another white man.
  2. If people can change gender, why not the Doctor?
  3. I don't give a flying fig about "retconning" or whatever is being claimed. (Okay, yes, I saw at least that much fuss thanks to a friend's Facebook comment.) Moffat mucked up plenty, so it's all fair game now.
  4. I liked Whittaker on Broadchurch, but that was a very serious and dramatic role. Will this new Doctor be that serious? Or will I simply see Whittaker in a new light? Curious to find out.
  5. I'm confident in Chibnall's abilities, too, as showrunner. And I know he's worked well with Whittaker in the past, which is a good start.

So, yeah, I think this will be interesting.

7.13.2017

Books: The Fifth Petal by Brunonia Barry

I'm not sure how much of my enjoyment of this novel was heightened by my personal knowledge and experience of Salem, Massachusetts and its surroundings. I lived in Massachusetts for twelve years, half of those in Boston and the other half north of there, and so all the details of highways and such featured in The Fifth Petal make sense to me and add a level of veracity. However, if I were unfamiliar with Salem and/or Massachusetts, I do wonder whether those same details would simply be annoying and unnecessary.

The story itself is a good one, for those who like its ilk: at age five, Callie Cahill was found not far from the spot her mother and two of her mother's friends were brutally murdered. Twenty-five years later, those murders get dredged up yet again and force Callie to think about things she's avoided.

Besides Callie, The Fifth Petal offers an interesting cast of characters: a local witch, the chief of police, and a number of blue bloods whose pride in their deep roots gets outlandish at times. And though I saw the "twist" coming from early on, I still found the book mostly very compelling.

[spoiler below; skip the next paragraph if you don't want to know something specific about the book]

I only wish we'd been allowed to see a redeemed Paul since our final interactions with him as a character are of him being a drunken jerk.

[end spoiler]

This is a book about things hidden and buried. It's a book about the way we put a veneer on things to make them prettier than they really are. It's a book about root rot.

In short, it's a good summer-into-fall read, particularly ripe for the Hallowe'en season.


Television: Doctor Who, "Smile"

I've got all these DW episodes on my DVR. Class, too. Don't know when or if I'll ever get around to watching it all.

I mentioned liking Bill when she was introduced in "The Pilot." And I do still like her; I think she's a nice contrast to Capaldi's grumpy old man schtick. But I do also feel like Bill is something of a device. It's like the writers decided she would ask all the questions posed on the Internet about the Doctor/Doctor Who so that the show could pithily answer them. "Why is the TARDIS shaped like a police box?" "Why are you Scottish?" etc.

And this episode about killer emojis . . . more or less, anyway . . . Eh.

I suppose I should keep in mind that Doctor Who really is middle-grade television. It's meant at heart for pre-teens, I think, regardless of the adult following. When I remind myself that it's really more on par with something like The Librarians, it's easier to forgive a lot of the dumb. (Nothing against The Librarians, either, which is a lot of fun. The correlation just gives me more perspective.)

Still. The Doctor couldn't have "rebooted" the robots with his sonic screwdriver, like, first thing? Would have saved everyone some serious trouble.

7.08.2017

Movies: Spider-Man: Homecoming

Starring: Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, Robert Downey Jr., Marisa Tomei, Jacob Batalon, Jon Favreau
Directed By: Jon Watts
Written By: so many people you don't even want to know
Marvel, 2017
PG-13; 133 minutes
5 stars (out of 5)


_______________________________________________________

First, some context. (Stop groaning.) I saw the three Tobey Maguire movies, never saw the Andrew Garfield ones. Didn't love Tom Holland's turn at Spider-Man in Captain America: Civil War and so wasn't even sure I wanted to see this movie. But I'm glad I did.

On the plus side, we skip the origin story this time. Since Spidey has already been introduced via the last Captain America movie, we're able to go to the head of the line here and assume Peter Parker's transformation and abilities are established. Hooray!

Instead, this film uses Peter's eagerness to help and be a real Avenger as the diving board. Happy (Favreau) is Peter's "handler" and Peter dutifully calls in regularly to let him know all the little things he's done to help his neighborhood: gave directions to a lost woman, kept a bicycle from being stolen. But as Happy—and by extension Tony Stark—continue to give him the brush-off, Peter's frustration mounts.

Then Peter stumbles across something bigger: someone selling really strong weapons. But again he's told to stick to the little stuff.

Of course he doesn't.

And, yes, the school's homecoming dance is a turning point.

Usually a movie written by committee (as, based on the long list of writers this one seems to have been) is a recipe for disaster. But somehow Homecoming bests the odds. It has the right amount of humor, and it's tight—nothing is wasted. Holland as Parker manages to be eager but not quite as obnoxious as I feared. Batalon as Peter's friend Ned is golden, too. And Michael Keaton as a Birdman of another kind . . . In fact, the whole film is incredibly well cast.

Up until now I had really enjoy Macguire's Spider-Man 2 the most, with his first one a close second. Homecoming gives them a run for their money, though. I'm not quite ready to say it's better, but it's at least equal to those. Possibly better. Probably. I don't know; it's been too long since I've seen the others.

I don't usually have the time to see a movie more than once in the cinema, nor the inclination to re-watch very many films, but I'd see this one again. That alone makes it pretty special. I may be tired of the typical Marvel/Avengers/superhero movies that have flooded the market lately, but this one . . . It's just different enough not to feel like I'm being fed reheated leftovers. That may be faint praise, but I'll count it as a win.

Movies: Logan

For what it is, Logan is a fine movie. Its tone sets it apart from the typical superhero blockbuster; instead it feels much more Terminator. But while the character depth is there, the development of these characters stays very much within the expected and predetermined. There is nothing new or interesting offered.

We all know Logan (aka Wolverine), or if you don't, I'm not sure why you're watching this movie. The future is here, and Logan is the last Mutant. He's got Charles X locked away and is dosing him up with stuff to keep him tame so that his powers don't go out of control. (Sort of like an old man's bladder, Charles can't always hold his powers in.) There's an albino aide named Caliban, too, helping Logan care for Charles.

Logan works as, for lack of a better current analogy, an Über Black driver. He's accosted by a Spanish woman who wants him to take her and a girl to North Dakota. She's willing to pay $50k. But of course this woman and girl are being pursued by a team of tough men because (surprise, not) the girl is actually part of a secret project to create and train mutant fighters.

As I said, it all goes as expected. Logan does it for the money, albeit reluctantly, but then finds himself caring about this girl. We go from action scene to action scene, soft moment to soft moment, until we come to the big finale fight. Shrug.

There are true moments of humor here, at least, that help elevate the otherwise somber mood.

Did I enjoy it? Yes, a bit. But I would have enjoyed it more if there'd been something a little surprising about it. As it stands, Logan is rather rote. Not for a superhero movie—it's better than most of those—but for any movie. It feels like a throwback, which makes it feel like something I've seen before. Maybe not recently, but that's beside the point.

7.06.2017

Books: The Furthest Station by Ben Aaronovitch

I've written often enough about how much I enjoy the Peter Grant books, even if I thought the last couple weren't quite as good. This little novella is a return to form, a streamlined and engaging tale set in the magical world of Grant, Nightingale, and the Folly, with Grant's precocious cousin Abigail along for the ride. While the story leans a little more heavily on Abigail than I 100% enjoy, it's such a quick, fun read that I can overlook that.

Short summary: ghosts are turning up to hassle riders on the Metropolitan Line and it's down to Grant to figure out why. Kinda difficult when the riders forget the interactions almost as soon as they occur. That is, spooked commuters call the police only to wonder why the police turn up because the can't even remember calling them.

I won't say more so as not to give anything away. In short, I can highly recommend this one, though if you aren't yet familiar with Grant some of it might sail past you in a blur. This is a series that really needs to be read in order.

7.05.2017

Television: Riverdale

Was casting around for something to watch and settled on trying this one. (I'm not at any loss for things to watch, mind; my DVR is packed full of stuff that I just didn't feel like watching.)

Anyway, I used to live in the town Riverdale was modeled after. The local Applebee's was practically devoted to all things Archie. It really was this one town's biggest claim to fame. That and Rob Zombie.

As for Riverdale, it's so corny and self-aware that I couldn't help but enjoy it. The pilot, that is. Jughead as the narrator . . . It's really all pretty ridiculous, and of course all the characters are turned up to eleven. The mean girl is not just mean but MEAN. Betty isn't just sweet, she's SWEET. And layered under it all is the drama and decay. Nothing simply is in Riverdale; it's all extreme. A breakup leads to someone being institutionalized, and of course there's MURDER.

I dunno. I guess I was just in the right mood for this amount of silly. It's sort of like if the Archie comics went slightly Twin Peaks.

And of course I grew up reading Archie. They were some of the only comics my mother felt were clean and wholesome enough to allow. But Riverdale seems to be making a concerted effort to skew the other direction. No one wants to watch wholesome. So let's go salacious instead and have Archie bonk a teacher.

Yeah, okay.

Archie isn't entirely likable here, but then again, at least from what I recall, he wasn't all that likable in the comics either. Kind of a chowder head. But in innocent ways, whereas here he makes more egregious errors in judgement. Makes for better drama, I suppose. In any case, while Archie is central, he doesn't come across as the main character. As far as the pilot goes, Betty gets the focus and the sympathy. Maybe that changes as the show goes along.

I'll probably watch more. Don't know yet if I'll get through an entire season though. Will largely depend—as tonight's outing did—on my mood and viewer appetite.

It's IWSG Time Again!

Cross posting from PepperWords:


It's time again for the Insecure Writer's Support Group! Posts go up the first Wednesday of each month. Read more posts and/or join in here.

I recently completed a writing retreat and workshop in France. As idyllic as it sounds, I was insecure about it! Six writers, all strangers (at least to me), in an intimate setting . . . But of course it went beautifully and was a wonderful experience. Now my insecurities are based on living up to all their faith in me and my work! I've been given a deadline for Hamlette, which is actually good for me; I work so much better under deadlines, particularly ones imposed by someone other than myself. I'm glad to have people to hold me accountable.

Question of the Month: What is one valuable lesson you've learned since you started writing?

I've learned so much over the years, so it's tough for me to narrow it down to just one lesson. I will say that it's important to set goals. Realistic ones. Bite-sized ones. Know what "success" looks like to you, whether it's landing an agent and a major publisher, or self-publishing and selling X number of books. And don't let anyone tell you your personal version of success is wrong. That is, don't let them tell you what you "should" want. That's their idea of success; it doesn't have to be yours. (This is the whole point of my screenplay 20 August, btw.) Anyway, be sure and clear about what you want. Then break that goal into steps and start taking them.

7.04.2017

Books: Peter on Sale on Smashwords

My publisher has put my spy novel The Fall and Rise of Peter Stoller on sale on Smashwords for the month of July. So if you haven't already grabbed it, this is a great time to pick it up at a discount.


1960’s London: British Intelligence agent Peter Stoller is next in line to run the Agency—until he falls in love with cab driver, Charles, and his life goes off the road. When Charles is accused of treason, Peter is guilty by association. Peter manages to extract them both, but the seeds of doubt have been planted, putting Peter’s mind and heart at war. Is ignorance truly bliss or merely deadly?

7.02.2017

Movie: Bridget Jones's Baby

This was a stupid movie. Which is maybe all it was meant to be, but still. Just really dumb and rote.

I only watched it because I was captive on a 10+-hour long flight and the movie options were really pathetic. There was stuff I'd seen and had no particular desire to see again and stuff I hadn't seen and mostly had no interest in. Which is surprising since there are plenty of movies I want to see but haven't had the opportunity to yet. Somehow this airline didn't have any of them. So I was forced to settle for something that I thought might be mildly entertaining.

This was . . . not. While watching I constantly debated whether to just turn it off and stare into space for a few hours rather than continue the movie. Seriously.

Okay, so I saw Bridget Jones's Diary, like, years ago. Way back when. Can barely remember it. Never saw the second one at all. And then there was this. Bridget celebrates her 43rd birthday, gets a hip new boss who wants to rebrand the television show Bridget works on, gets dragged to (a) a memorial service for the Hugh Grant character because he apparently couldn't be talked into returning to this train wreck, (b) a music festival where she hooks up with the American equivalent of Hugh Grant (aka Patrick Dempsey), (c) a christening where she hooks up with Colin Firth's character. And then of course she's pregnant and isn't sure which of these hook-ups produced the baby. Everything then goes on at a predictable clip until the equally predictable ending.

Colin Firth is the only good thing about this movie. The fact that he's able to do anything with the material is a flat-out miracle, but his reactions are priceless.

If you have time to waste, as I did, I'm still not sure I'd recommend you do it with this movie. It fails to be funny at all, instead leaning on really old and used bits of humor. It's almost painful to watch. Skip this one.

6.21.2017

I'm Away

Okay, friends, I'm about to fly away to France for a bit. If you want to follow along in that adventure, be sure to Like and Follow my Facebook page.

I also just sent out the first newsletter in a new series that will feature an ongoing fantasy story set in the fictional world of AElit. It's not too late to join in. Click the "Sign Up" button on the aforementioned Facebook page.

6.18.2017

Movies: Cars 3

Voices by: Owen Wilson, Cristela Alonzo, Chris Cooper, Nathan Fillion, Armie Hammer
Directed By: Brian Fee
Written By: Kiel Murray, Bob Peterson, Mike Rich (screenplay); Brian Fee, Ben Queen, Eyal Podell, Jonathon E. Stewart (story)
Pixar, 2017
G; 109 minutes
4.5 stars (out of 5)


_______________________________________________________

I really enjoyed this movie, and I struggled over how many stars to give it. I might, with time and/or persuasion, think of it as a five-star film.

Truth is, I liked the first Cars movie, was indifferent to the second, and had no real expectations for this one. But of course it's when you have no high hopes that it's easy to be wowed. So many people really disliked Cars 2, almost anything would have been an improvement. However, Pixar still made a solid film that stands tall in its own right.

Going back to what worked before, the story here is that Lightning McQueen (Wilson) begins to lose races and suffers a crisis of confidence because of this. Younger, flashier cars with newer, better features are displacing McQueen's "generation." After a horrific crash, McQueen decides he just needs to train faster and harder, but it becomes increasingly clear that he has limits—he just isn't as fast as the rookies. So he needs to be smarter instead.

When his corporate sponsors are bought by a mud-flap billionaire, McQueen is assigned a personal trainer named Cruz Ramirez (Alonzo). But it's McQueen who teaches Cruz a thing or two about old-school ways of training. They survive a demolition derby and seek out Doc Hudson's old mentor Smokey (Cooper).

McQueen must win the first race of the season or be forced by his new owner to retire to a life of pitching products and selling his name.

There's nothing surprising here, no big twists; Cars 3 shows you the map well ahead of the journey. Still, it's an enjoyable ride. They do a fine job of making the demolition derby terrifying, and I, at least, am grateful for the lack of Mater in this installment. After hinging Cars 2 on him, someone finally figured out less is more when it comes to that particular sidekick character.

Still, while there are real jerks in this movie—McQueen's new boss, and the flashy new Jackson Storm—it lacks any real villain. This is more about becoming a better you than about beating anyone else. Which is fine, but may be lost on the younger crowd. In fact, I noticed a marked restlessness in the cinema whenever the story got quiet or introspective.

But there are plenty of races and racing scenes to keep the kids largely engaged. I, for one, would like to see it again in a cinema without a mostly juvenile audience to distract me. In short, this is easily my favorite of the Cars films, though that's not saying much. And I still have a lot of questions about the way this world of theirs functions. The Sistine Chapel is referenced and someone does a cover of a Bruce Springsteen song, so . . . People did exist at one time? Or in this parallel universe does the Sistine Chapel feature a mechanic creating the first car? Why is there a school bus if there are no children to ride it? Should a bus for cars be a car carrier? Cruz mentions going to school, too . . . Driving school? Do "young" cars drive on a learner's permit? How do they grow? I just . . . I know it's a kids' movie and all for fun, but some of these details really need to be hammered out.

Oh, and why in one scene does McQueen have functioning headlights? I thought they were stickers?

::SMH::

It would be easy to go down the rabbit hole. Try not to think about it too much. Just enjoy the show.

6.11.2017

Movies: Wonder Woman

Starring: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine
Directed By: Patty Jenkins
Written By: Allan Heinberg (screenplay)
DC Entertainment, 2017
PG-13; 141 minutes
5 stars (out of 5)


_______________________________________________________

I teared up a few times while watching this movie, seemingly at random. I mean, I honestly don't know why. There's a force of empathy behind this film; it has a depth most superhero movies lack or try to fake. And Gal Gadot is simply amazing. She brings such a blend of wonder and purpose to, well, Wonder Woman.

The story is straight forward enough. Diana, Princess of Themyscira saves a WWI pilot who flies into their bubble and crashes in the ocean. When she learns of the war, Diana feels compelled to go stop it. After all, it is the sacred duty of the Amazons to bring peace to mankind and to put an end to Ares, God of War.

Reluctantly, Diana's mother lets her go.

Cue the fish-out-of-water story in which Diana is introduced to the world. But while it has its funny moments, this is not played so much for laughs as for contrast. Diana sees what is and imagines what could be if only men weren't at war and under the influence of Ares. Her focus on her goal is a through line that holds things together. We see and feel Diana's pain whenever she witnesses some new act of insensible violence, whenever she reacts to seemingly bizarre pronouncements that will doom thousands of men to die. "How can you say that, believe that?" she cries, and we nod. We're used to thinking of war as hell, but here we're shown that war is pretty fucked up, too, and it's the little guy who pays the hefty bill for it.

I'll say some of the plot twists were pretty telegraphed, but that didn't detract from my enjoyment of the movie as a whole. This is well written, well acted, and beautifully directed and filmed. (Don't bother sitting through the credits, though; DC has opted not to follow Marvel into the world of little teaser scenes at the ends of their movies, at least in this case.)

Chris Pine does a nice job as the love interest. He's the typical Chris Pine type of character, but without the cocky smugness. In fact, he plays the fish out of water more than Gadot as Diana, as someone trying to steer this strange and beautiful woman through the world, and he does it well.

I'd say more but I don't want to give anything away to those who've yet to see the movie. In short, it's really good, and I was especially glad to be able to see it with my daughter, who was awed by Wonder Woman . . . And really wants some boots like hers?

6.03.2017

Movies: The LEGO Batman Movie

This was . . . okay. Not as funny and cute as The LEGO Movie. I think maybe the Batman character, as portrayed in the LEGO movie(s), is better in small snippets rather than 100+ minutes.

Part of the problem may also be that The LEGO Movie had original characters while here Batman is necessarily circumscribed by his known self and the DC Universe.

Also, a lot of this seemed rushed and not fully explored. Why have Voldemort and Daleks, etc. and not use them to full potential?

As for the plot, it was generally this: Barbara Gordon takes over as Commissioner of Gotham City and believes there is no longer any need for Batman because look at how long he's been on the job and there's as much crime in Gotham as ever. Not a bad point. Meanwhile, Joker is upset that Batman won't "commit" to their hate-ship. When Batman sends the Joker to another dimension, one filled with bad guys (see aforementioned Daleks et al), the Joker brings these baddies back to Gotham. Hilarity does not ensue. Instead a rushed and chaotic battle of the kind one usually sees in Avengers movies occurs. Meh.

Oh, and there's Robin spending all his time trying to find ways to call Batman his "dad" without offending him.

Except maybe for the would-be bromance between Batman and Joker, I wasn't all that hugely amused by this movie. It wasn't terrible, just not as laugh-out-loud funny as I expected, which means I was disappointed in the end. Maybe Unikitty needs her own movie instead.

6.01.2017

Television: Legion, The Leftovers, and Fargo

Okay, so I finally got around to watching the last couple episodes of Legion. As promised, the story finally came together. But I still didn't care enough about anyone—except maybe Dave—to be very interested. I just really feel like they could have cut so much of the mushy middle of this season. It could have been tight and fast and breathtaking. But instead it was a lot of style and not so much substance. Sort of like the Twin Peaks revival (though I will admit Parts 3 & 4 of that were far more engaging than the first two). I'm not sure I'll be back for another season of Legion.

[I'm one to talk: I write for character and tend to meander in my plots, too. Kettle, you're black.]

And now we need to talk about Kevin. Garvey, that is. In The Leftovers. This is the final season, and it's getting to be an awful lot like Lost. I'm not convinced that's a good thing. While I'm mostly enjoying the season, and the idea of Kevin as a new Messiah is highly entertaining, he's just so Jack (from Lost) and things seem to be falling that way, meaning the show doesn't feel very fresh any more. Only one episode left, and I don't think we're going to get closure, exactly; this isn't that kind of show. But I believe you can have a satisfying but open/ambiguous ending. Let's hope we at least get that.

Finally, let's loop back to more Noah Hawley with Fargo. I'm a couple episodes behind, but it appears Emmit may be hitting his breaking point. I really enjoyed the sidebar episode in which Gloria went to L.A. on a wild goose chase; it was nice to infuse something a little different into things, rather like tapping into the Coens' other works. David Thewlis as Varga is particularly abhorrent, which is just as he's meant to be, so bravo there. But I can't help thinking of Sy as "discount Joaquin Phoenix." Why is that?

All told, I'm not as fully engaged with Fargo this season despite the fabulous casting. I think maybe the story just doesn't grab me. Scene by scene, it's so well done, but put together my mind starts to wander pretty quickly.

5.28.2017

Movies: The Rewrite

A film from 2014 masquerading as something from around 1999. A cute story that has potential collapses under its own lack of direction and any real conflict.

Hugh Grant plays Keith Michaels, a once-hot screenwriter whose star has faded. Desperate for work, he agrees to teach a course at a university in Binghamton, NY. Almost immediately he falls into bed with a cute student, catches the ire of the resident uptight, tenured professor (Allison Janney), and finds himself dogged by a persistent would-be screenwriter (Marisa Tomei). Chris Elliott and J.K. Simmons round out the pretty stellar cast—too bad the movie didn't do much with them.

Despite so much being thrown at its main character, The Rewrite fails to provide conflict or tension of any kind, almost as though it can't bear to be too mean to bumbling-but-well-meaning Grant. It also can't muster any kind of through line. Instead of a stretched, taut rubber band, this movie is more like a rubber band ball, everything mushed together. Situations are set up and then dropped or let down in a anticlimactic way.

1. Professor Weldon (Janney) takes a dislike to Michaels at his first staff mixer when he admits not liking Jane Austen then proceeds to also bad mouth the idea of kick-ass women in films. But while this does come into play a little bit later, Weldon is mostly absent from the film, a potential point of conflict left unused.

2. Michaels starts a relationship with one of his students. Obviously a no-no. But when they break it off, the student does not go in for the kill, and [spoiler alert] Michaels is able to talk himself out of trouble.

3. The supposed building relationship between Michaels and Tomei's character is practically non-existent. They chat, they chat, they fall in love? I think? Zero build up, zero chemistry.

4. There's some kind of story about Michaels trying to reconnect with his estranged son, but that is marginalized to the point one wonders why even have it in the movie at all?

We're supposed to feel bad for Michaels because he's being aged out of Hollywood. They want "fresh voices." But we're not given time to sympathize because he immediately begins doing stuff to get himself in trouble.

I also had a problem with the subtle misogyny in this movie. It's insidious but there. Janney's uptight spinster character; the way Michaels gets away with boinking a student; the ongoing jokes about J.K. Simmons' character having a wife and four daughters; and—most tellingly—the fact that one of the only male students in Michaels' class has a brilliant script that gets snapped up immediately. Because the girls are only meant to be pretty, of course, and none of them can actually write.

It's a shame, really, that this movie isn't better. Because it could have been. Loads. It's the kind of movie I usually enjoy, but this one was just off enough that I didn't. Go watch Music and Lyrics (for your Hugh Grant fix) or Wonder Boys (for a story about a washed-up writer) instead.

5.26.2017

Audiobook: Sherlock Holmes Stories

Hey ho! If you've been putting off reading my Sherlock Holmes stories because you wanted someone else to read them to you, your time has come. They are now available on audiobook, read by the amazing Jared Ashe who does a lovely job of giving voice to Watson. I do hope you'll go have a listen.

5.24.2017

Television: Elementary, "Hurt Me, Hurt You"

Whew. It wasn't Sherlock who had a sister but some gang guy. Instead, Sherlock just has a mental manifestation of someone who looks like his mother?

Still not very original, but better than I feared. I mean, someone clearly watched some Mr. Robot and said, "We can do that!"

Sigh.

And the gang war thing . . . So the bad guy from last week kidnapped and murdered the sister of a rival gang's leader in order to spark an all-out war. This gave him the opportunity to divest himself of his unwanted gang because he waltzed into the police station and, in return for immunity, gave up all his gang members. Except he said that someone else killed the girl. Too bad evidence circled back to him, nulling his immunity.

Meanwhile, Sherlock is slowly cracking up. He puts items into boxes then tries to remember what's in the boxes. And this woman he keeps "meeting" is just a figment of his imagination. So while he "blames" her for texting people, he's really the one texting people? From a phone number he doesn't even remember having? Or something?

I dunno. Whatever. He ends up setting fire to the townhouse, or at the very least wrecking the place. Not clear if the fire was also in his head . . . Damage didn't look like fire damage to me . . . But then he went for an MRI cuz there's maybe something wrong in there.

I've been for MRIs. They're loud.

Going for one on Friday, in fact. Not for my head or liver for once. But that's beside the point.

Season ends with questions about Sherlock's health (mental, physical, emotional). Show could get interesting again if we go back to Sherlock + Joan dealing with more personal matters rather than crime-of-the-week. But it doesn't return until next spring, so . . . Gives them time to do it right.

But seriously, why do magnets have to make so much noise?

5.23.2017

Television: Twin Peaks, Parts 1 & 2

This show isn't made for me.

I kind of hoped it would be, but I knew it was a long shot.

You see, aside from a couple of key exceptions, I don't actually enjoy David Lynch's work. Those exceptions are the original Twin Peaks network series and Dune. Yes, really.

My theory is that I only like Lynch when he's being constricted or restrained in some way. Network television has a lot of rules. Dune was based on a book. But now that the Twin Peaks revival is on Showtime and no one is putting reins on Mr. Lynch . . . We get stuff I don't care for.

And that's me. Lots of people will surely love this. But I was falling asleep. It was slow, soporific, and IMHO pretty self-indulgent. As bizarre and disjointed as one would expect, but—for me, at least—not nearly as interesting.

I won't even try to recap it, it's such a scramble. Other sites have surely done that job anyway.

So yeah. Not for me. But if you like Lynch, you'll probably enjoy this too.

5.19.2017

Television: Elementary, "Scrambled"

Oh, Jesus, are we doing the Sherlock's sister thing here, too? Groan.

The bulk of this episode deals with Shinwell's murder and taking down the gang he had infiltrated. It was the story of two brothers being in charge of SPK, one very visibly and one as the power behind the throne. There was stuff about secret messages/instructions sent via Twitter or whatever. But then as Holmes, Watson and the police began to close the net, the social media account is deactivated and one brother—the showy one—ends up snorting bleach instead of cocaine. He survives but will be a vegetable for the rest of his life. Though the other brother is Suspect #1, there is no proof... yet. Meanwhile, the vacancy in leadership is set to create friction in the gang community.

Fine, fine, whatever. In truth, Watson's lecture to one gang member smacked of 80's MacGyver, and the whole story line feels somewhat dated. Or maybe it's very on point for people living in major cities. I honestly don't know, and that probably makes me a bad, uninformed American. I just know that when I was young (in the 80s), there were lots of lectures about gangs and drugs. Then, as I got older, there weren't. So when I see a story about gangs and drugs, I just think: 80s.

Plus, gangs rank right up there with the mob/organized crime on my list of things that don't interest me. Yes, I am the one person with a film degree who doesn't appreciate The Godfather.

Anyway, B Plot = Holmes having random meetings with some woman who keeps turning up. He tells her about a case, and she jumps ahead and interferes. I mention the "sister" thing because the previews for next week's season finale hinted at something along those lines. And I groan because Sherlock did such a abysmal job of it that I couldn't even be bothered to untangle everything wrong with it, and yet here we are again with the same idea. Really? Two different shows going to the same well? No one had something better and more original than this? No one?

I suppose I should at least congratulate Elementary on pulling out the nod for a sixth season. Or half season, anyway, as it's set to return next spring. Here's hoping they use this opportunity to right the ship. If you're going to sail into the sunset, do it properly at least.

Like Sherlock Holmes? My three original stories, written in the style of Doyle, are now available in one collection. Read it for free via Kindle Unlimited. Audiobook coming soon!

5.17.2017

Television: Great News

If you like Tina Fey's brand of comedy (and I do), Great News is more of that. Some of the lines are so Fey, you can imagine her saying them. As it is, Briga Heelan nails the delivery. (Note that Fey did not write any of the scripts, but she is an executive producer.)

What's the show about? Briga Heelan plays Katie, a segment producer on the afternoon news magazine show The Breakdown. Echoes of 30 Rock abound, though the personalities here are slightly less eccentric. Just as neurotic, though. And yes, there is a difference.

The entire cast does a fine job, but John Michael Higgins as news personality Chuck Pierce is the one who makes me laugh out loud. Nicole Richie holds her own against him as they form a mismatched pair of old-school anchorman versus millennial ADHD energy.

Katie's mother Carol (Andrea Martin) comes to intern on the show. (Don't ask, just watch.) Somehow she ends up being the only one who can manage Chuck and therefore becomes indispensable. While PCHH gushed over Martin, I can't say she's my favorite character. This is only after three episodes, however; maybe she gains depth over time. For now she's one joke: helicopter mom annoying her daughter in the workplace. It has its moments but isn't consistently funny. Though it comes in myriad flavors—Mom tries to hook Katie up with coworkers, Mom tries to keep Katie safe during a potentially dangerous assignment—it's all really much of the same: Mom meddling.

Still, if the show should branch away from Carol and Katie a little, I can anticipate devouring the episodes in short order. There is a lot of fun to be had if we can stop focusing on the one gag.

5.15.2017

Where Am I Today?

Over at A Writer's Life answering questions about, er, my writing life. And giving people a chance to win that $15 gift card.

5.14.2017

Movies: She's Funny That Way

If you like Woody Allen and/or screwball comedies, this movie should be right up your alley.

A theatre director named Arnold (Owen Wilson) gets his kicks by giving call girls big payoffs so they can start new lives. When one of those call girls named Isabella (Imogen Poots) turns up to audition for a play, Arnold's life begins to fall apart. For one thing, Arnold's wife Delta (Kathryn Hahn) is also in the play, so the risk is high she will discover what Arnold has been up to. Meanwhile, Isabella has an obsessed stalker who has hired a private eye to follow her. The story is rounded out by a terrible therapist (Jennifer Aniston), her boyfriend who is the playwright (Will Forte), and the sassy star of the play (Rhys Ifans).

There's a bit of a frame story in that Isabella is talking to a journalist, and one is led to wonder how much of the story she tells is true and how much is romanticized.

The cast is stellar, and the movie is legitimately cute and funny in a sweet way. The whole thing feels a bit like a stage play itself, or like it could be. Even Richard Lewis and Cybill Shepherd turn up as Isabella's parents. (Hey, I loved both Anything But Love and Moonlighting back in the day.)

In any case, I'm glad to have stumbled across this little gem. Really enjoyed it.

5.11.2017

Television: Elementary, "Moving Targets"

Yes, I'm catching up. Though I guess we're never going to see "High Heat." The week it was supposed to air, our affiliate instead re-ran "Render, and Then Seize Her." The Steve Winwood gave it away immediately.

Anyway. This episode is about the murder of a reality show contestant. She had been wearing a body camera as part of the show—instead of a crew, they use captured footage. Apparently the contestants "kill" each other with paintball guns. But someone used a real gun on this woman (and took the body camera to hide the evidence).

The number one suspect is another of the contestants, of course, specifically one who turns out to have been a war criminal in Africa. But he's turned over a new leaf and been pardoned, more or less, under a treaty. Then there's the fact the victim, who was in law enforcement, was possibly on the take. Except that in reality she was investigating something much deeper.

This is the point at which I wonder why no one is looking at the people who created the show. And sure enough, it all loops back. But I did find it a fairly entertaining story line. Much better than the Shinwell stuff going on.

Yes, there was more Shinwell.

Watson receives a message from him saying they need to meet. Knowing that Holmes and Shinwell are on the outs, Watson attempts to hide this from Holmes, but of course he immediately deduces what's going on. Here is where I tuned out, so I can only give the gist of the B plot: Shinwell has Watson go talk to someone who'd been investigating a murder; Watson is able to supply information/evidence that solves the case? Something like that? And then Shinwell manages to be promoted inside the gang, so he prepares to move out of his apartment. Except Watson then finds him dead in said apartment. Which means, I guess, that the gang figured out Shinwell was an informant. Or not. Who knows? Who cares?

Alas, it does mean the next episode will deal with the fallout. Shinwell may be gone, but his plot arc lives on to slowly strangle the life out of this show.

Speaking of which, we're still waiting to hear if Elementary will be renewed. It's sitting atop the bubble . . . The real question is whether CBS has anything else on hand? If not, it may well leave Elementary where it is while it works to develop new material. Not that many shows would be clamoring for the 10:00 p.m. Sunday time slot anyway. But a place on the schedule is a place on the schedule. "As soon a spot opens up on the map, we're next!"

5.10.2017

Television: Elementary, "Fly Into a Rage, Make a Bad Landing"

So Chantal is hospitalized after an attack, and all indications are her ex-husband Roy is the culprit, right down to the urine sprayed all over the bed. Roy reasonably points out that, having been a cop, he knows better than to do something like that [throw his DNA all over a crime scene]. But his history of violence is working against him.

As it turns out, however, the attack has roots in Roy's work as a private investigator. Maybe. When Roy ends up dead via what is meant to look like a suicide, Holmes and Watson drill down. The discovery of a safety deposit box filled with cash leads them to believe Roy was being paid off by someone. Someone who was tired of paying.

After more digging, it turns out Roy's partner killed him after setting Roy up to take the fall for Chantal's attack didn't work.

A fairly straight forward story, though I haven't seen enough of Marcus and Chantal to feel any strong feeling about their relationship, or to even feel very sympathetic toward him specifically. The revelation that he grew up in an abusive household felt pat, too, rather than empathetic. Which is a shame because I do like Marcus Bell as a character. There's just a disconnect in the way they inject his backstory (and the same is true of Gregson as well)—I still don't feel like he's a fully fleshed character. More like the writers sometimes say, "Oh! We should do something with him." And they do for an episode or two and then go back to whatever.

Character development has been rather thin all around this season. Holmes and Watson appear to be in a kind of holding pattern. This is what comes of five years with someone, I guess. Instead of working with the existing characters, the show attempted to introduce new ones like Shinwell. But that's not what viewers want, not what (and who) we tune in to see. Elementary has devolved into an somewhat outr&eactue; procedural that lacks the charm that once set it apart, which is to say its unique take on old characters.

5.09.2017

Books: The Reluctant Wife by Caroline Warfield

So I've only read one other book by Caroline Warfield, but I can say this one was pretty similar to that so . . . There's something to be said for consistency, I guess. But when I say "similar," this is what I mean:

  1. Both books I've read by her feature a young widow whose first husband was a loser, making the female MC reluctant to trust a man or ever marry again.
  2. Both books feature a soldier living far from England and often under harsh circumstances, by which I mean poverty or ignominy or some combination thereof.
  3. Both books feature a child or children in need of guardians and care. "Custody" seems to be a running theme.

I will say, I enjoyed this book more than Dangerous Secrets. I found the main characters more engaging in this novel, and the attraction more believable. But I do have to wonder at the MMC's lack of sorrow when his mistress—mother of his two daughters—dies. Like, the book starts with a fuss about the funeral and what to do with the girls, and I'm like, "If he's had this mistress long enough to have two daughters with her, he must know he has children? Like, he knew there were times his mistress was pregnant, right? So why is he suddenly confused by all this?" And if it had been presented that he was overcome with grief, I might have bought it. But instead he's just harried. He doesn't want to be bothered with the fact he has daughters, and he doesn't seem too distressed by the fact this woman he spent years with has died. And I'm supposed to like this guy?

To Warfield's credit, we do come to like Fred, but I continue to be troubled by that jumping off point.

A handful of punctuation and formatting errors also distracted me. But overall, this was a quick and enjoyable read.

5.05.2017

Movies: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Starring: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista
Directed By: James Gunn
Written By: James Gunn (screenplay)
Marvel Studios, 2017
PG-13; 136 minutes
4.5 stars (out of 5)


_______________________________________________________

I thoroughly enjoyed this movie. I don't think I enjoyed it quite as much as the first film, but nearly. There is a lot of humor, as usual, though most of the funny stuff goes to Drax this time. I can't remember the last time I laughed that much at a movie. Visually, this is an eye-catching film, too. And it has the soundtrack you expect as well.

But I was also really aware of stuff in this movie in a way that I wasn't last time. And I don't know if that's a good thing.

The "family" theme—I felt hit over the head with that, with how often they felt the need to even say the word "family." I kept thinking, Yeah, we get it. Same with Quill insisting that he and Gamora have an "unspoken thing." You don't have to keep saying it; we're smart enough to read facial expressions.

Chris Pratt is also only ever Chris Pratt, and the more movies he makes the more obvious that becomes. I wish someone would give him a role that's at least a little bit different. (Then again, if he is terrible at anything but this one thing he does, maybe that's a bad idea. Maybe we just need new types of characters in movies, or else Chris Pratt is going to be in ALL THE THINGS.) Don't get me wrong, I love what he does. It just no longer feels very fresh.

That said, some of the lightness of the first movie is gone from this one thanks to heavy character moments. They've stacked a lot of pathos on top of the humor here. I'm not sure how well it works; I'm still processing some of that, I think. I did feel like we were getting a lot of sobby backstories, though. A lot of exposition via one character feeling the need to tell another character some stuff.

Okay, so what's the actual movie about? Um . . . Quill's father Ego (Kurt Russell, perfectly cast) turns up to take Quill "home" to the planet he created, or maybe actually is, or something. Ego is a "Celestial," which means he's kind of a god. He can manipulate matter, and he wants to teach his son to do the same. I won't give away anything more than that.

Meanwhile, Gamora's sister Nebula continues to pursue her.

And a race called the Sovereign are after the Guardians because Rocket stole some batteries from them. The Sovereign are consistently good for laughs throughout the movie; they are self-important and "fight" remotely by manning ships via what approximates a video game interface. If you're familiar with arcade culture, you'll find it amusing.

Yondu is there, too, facing a mutiny as his men think he's gone too soft.

The script was written to be quoted, pithy with many one-liners. And the movie does what it's meant to do, which is entertain. I'd certainly go see it again, as it's very watchable. The points above are mere nits I'm picking, because any time I find myself noticing something while watching a film, I have to wonder why I'm noticing. What's pulling me out of being totally immersed? But these are small things, and though they distracted me, they did not sink the film for me. And the addition of Pom Klementieff as Mantis is fabulous. She makes a great foil for Drax.*

Meanwhile, my kids think it's the best movie ever made, so . . .

*It's been pointed out that Mantis' role emphasizes the stereotype of subservient Asian women. I hadn't really thought about it; I was too busy enjoying her role. But I can see the problems with it, and also with her being even "stupider" than Drax. The dumb female is another stereotype we could do without. It left me to wonder whether Klementieff cringed at some of the lines she was given?

5.03.2017

Don't Forget!

I post IWSG on the PepperWords site. So if you've stumbled over here, click to go there!

5.02.2017

Television: Elementary, "The Art of Sleights and Deception"

A magician dies performing a bullet catch . . . with his mouth. Turns out the bullet was poisoned. We get the usual meandering parade of potential suspects. Whole thing boils down to an old how-to magic book and some Nazi paraphernalia. Watch the episode to see how they get there; despite liking magic and magicians and shows about magic and magicians, I half tuned out pretty early on. Something about Elementary has been kind of dull lately.

Meanwhile, Plot B was about Bell being brought up on charges that he pulled his gun on someone at a red light. Since we all know this is not at all Bell's style, and because the "previously on" went to pains to remind us of Bell's girlfriend and ex, we already know where this is going. The ex was in the force, was able to get a friend to lie about Bell, and had enough inside knowledge to know the make of Bell's gun to lend credence to the accusation. Things do look dark for Bell for a while, but naturally he comes out ahead . . . Except when he finds his girlfriend left for dead (or maybe just dead, but I feel like I saw something that made me believe she wasn't? previews? I can't even remember because this show falls right out of my head after I watch it now. It's just not interesting enough to stick).

Yeah, so . . . That. Happened.

Apparently I'm not the only one losing interest as ratings have slipped over the past couple weeks. While there has been no official verdict from CBS about the future of the show, assuming the network has enough fun new stuff for next season, it seems likely this is the last we'll see of Elementary. But I could be wrong! I'd love to see them have a chance to perk it up again. At the same time, I hate watching something saunter vaguely downward. I can't promise, if there were another season, that I could stick with the show if it kept on in this vein.