Mother of Dragons

My children think I am a dragon.

I mean this in the literal sense. My children honestly believe in my ability to transform into a large, wingéd, fire-breathing beast. After much discussion it has been determined that in dragon form I am an iridescent, pearly white and that my eyes are blue and gold, sometimes one of each color. My oldest son has read many books about dragons and has concluded that I am not merely an earth or water or fire dragon, but that I am that most mystical kind that encompasses all these. "Like the Golden Dragon," he tells me, "except you're a white dragon."

"Mother of dragons!" says my younger son.

"Queen of dragons!" says my daughter.

A Western dragon, certainly, because I do have wings, after all. (Eastern dragons do not.) The kids pepper me with riddles and assume I speak and read Latin, which would amuse my Classics professors because my Latin is only marginally better than my Greek, which is practically nonexistent.

I have found this alternate identity useful in disciplining the kids. A particular stare and tilt of my head seems to suggest to them that I may be in "dragon mode," on the brink of transformation. Sometimes I growl deep in my throat for emphasis. This is met with nervous laughter and sometimes outright shrieking; if they think I am really, truly angry they run to their rooms to hide under their blankets.

It's probably wrong to do this to them. But it's kind of fun.

Of course there are many questions. "How do you keep your human form?" (We've talked about how, the longer I stay in this form, the harder it gets to turn back into my dragon one.) "But you would turn into a dragon to protect us, right?" Oh, absolutely. "Can you fly?" I haven't in ages . . . And, inevitably, "When will you teach us how to turn into dragons?"

I'm teaching you now, little ones, and you don't even realize it.


A History of Names

My son's name is Alexander Louis, so he was quite amused to learn the newest member of the British royal family shared his two names. And for similar reasons.

My father's family came from Brittany, in France, a noble family that had the foresight to leave before anyone could swing an ax at their necks. Generation after generation of men in the family were named Alexandre and Louis. In order to differentiate, however, it was common for the names to be flipped every generation: Louis Alexandre's son would be Alexandre Louis, whose son would be another Louis Alexandre and so on. However, in the two generations previous to mine the name Alexandre had been dropped (it was last used as my great-grandfather's name), though the name Louis remained as a middle name to several family members, along with Louise for several women in the family. When my son was born, I chose to bring the name Alexander (using the American spelling, if only to avoid complications) back into use.

Alexander does additional duty in that it was also the name of one of the chieftains of my mother's Scottish clan (Innes). My second son's name is Robert for the same reason; Robert was the first Innes chieftain. And has the added benefit of being easy for my French-speaking family to say (even if they pronounce it a bit differently).

You see how the negotiation goes. On one side, I wanted to honor my French heritage, and also choose names that were not too strange to them. On the other, I wanted names that were normal enough not to seem too strange to everyday Americans, either. And I didn't want to leave out the Scottish side of my family, because I'm proud of that cultural history as well.

And then there's my daughter. Evangeline. That's a bit of my romanticism showing, I suppose, though I did have a great-aunt Evvy (eh-vee), short for Evangeline.

It was my preference and my pleasure to choose classic names with sentimental family ties. I know, of course, not everyone feels that way when naming a child. Many people look to do something different and unique; they feel it's freeing in some way. And as we say back home, à chacun son goût. After all, what's in a name? Only what you put into it.

All the best to the royals. I've got my own court to rule.


Television: Revolution Season 2 Teaser Trailer

So everyone was telling me I had to see this trailer for the upcoming season of Revolution. That it would make me definitely want to watch Season 2. (As you might recall, I left Season 1 feeling on the fence about whether I'd bother continuing to watch.) I finally got around to it tonight:

Can't say that I'm wowed. Looks pretty much like more of the same with a few swaps. I mean, assuming I'm understanding what I'm seeing, it appears they turn the lights back on for a few seconds only to have to turn them off again in order to stop the missiles. And then, based on the fact that remaining clips have people using candles and bonfires and whatnot, I'm guessing they can't or don't turn the lights back on again after the missiles come crashing down wherever they, you know, land. So we're back where we started, still without power? Only now, instead of Monroe being the bad guy, we've got the remnants of the actual U.S. government stirring up trouble (in the name of patriotism, of course) . . . Plays a little thick and heavy with the social commentary, I think, but whatever. Bottom line is, from what I see here, it's still people running around without electricity and picking fights of one kind and another. And I really just can't stand to watch a show that makes no progress. It's pretending to make progress, but the truth is, it's one step forward and two steps back. Because whoever is writing this clearly can't figure out how to sustain it and develop it at the same time. It's a televisual hamster wheel.

Now, I could of course be wrong. I could be misinterpreting what I'm seeing, or maybe this isn't even the trailer everyone was so excited about and I'm missing something entirely. But if I'm supposed to choose whether or not to watch the second season of Revolution based solely on this, then . . . I think I'll pass.


Documentary: Side by Side

Keanu Reeves interviews an assortment of directors, cinematographers and other industry pros about the evolution of moviemaking from celluloid film to digital. It's the kind of thing they're surely queuing up in Intro to Film classes across the country . . . Unless those schools don't want to give the students the idea they don't actually need film classes . . .

I have a film degree. But my degree was focused on cultural media studies and screenwriting. For a long time after graduating, I wondered whether I should have taken more practicum classes—that is, classes on the hands-on process of filming, directing, editing. But now I realize anything I would have learned then would only be partially useful now as the industry changes. After all, almost no one edits actual celluloid film any more. And I can edit movies on my computer without having to pay fees to a university to learn how.

Side by Side does a really nice job of, well, displaying the arguments for and against digital progression side by side. For every DP who laments the lack of dynamic range in digital cameras, there is another who says he loves the freedom new cameras give him to move around while filming. I would suppose that these preferences are largely very subjective, very personal. It's an art, after all. And all art is subjective. And no two artists love to work in the same medium exactly the same way.

Some of the arguments for continuing to shoot on film include that it is more tangible, textured, just has more emotion to it. Some of the interviewees also argued that film will last longer in the archival process (though that's certainly debatable). Because film is shot in roughly 10-minute rolls, there is a lot of time taken up in filmmaking with loading and reloading the camera. Shooting a movie literally takes longer on film because of this, and the directors get frustrated because they feel like they're having to stop and lose momentum. Meanwhile, actors may or may not love the frequent breaks. (Keanu mentioned he liked getting to go back to his trailer now and then.)

Film is more expensive, too, of course. And the process—one that I remember well while working on sets as a PA—of sending the film out each evening and picking it up next day to view dailies . . . There's something magical about seeing what was filmed the day before, but at the same time the DPs and directors could argue they like that digital shows them immediately what they're getting. And still, at least one director said digital was disruptive because the actors demand to see every take, wanting to make sure they look they way they think they should. (Like my kids who always want to see any iPhone picture I snap of them immediately after I take it.)

One thing I remember from being on a film set was the sound of the camera running and how silent everything became once you heard it. Digital is quieter, faster, cheaper. It's a more malleable medium. If film is hard granite that needs to be chiseled into form, digital is clay. Again, it seems that the artists' preferences would be key to determining which to use. And also the desired result would dictate to some point . . . What do you want the movie to look like, to feel like?

Digital has changed everything. Every aspect of filmmaking, from the way makeup is done (for HD), to editing and color correction, and of course there's the impact on FX. Side by Side does a remarkable job of going through a lot of these and again picking out the arguments for and against the changes. The workflow . . . Is it the DP's job to get the light and color or should s/he leave it to the DI colorist?

And then comes the discussion of how the proliferation of digital cameras has democratized filmmaking. Anyone can make a movie now; they just need a camera and a computer. Is that a good thing? Of course some say yes and some no. It's the same kind of ongoing debate that surrounds self-publishing. Hooray for everyone having a voice, and too bad so many of them are really awful. With so much content out there, does it become harder to find the good stuff? With so many voices shouting, is anyone heard? (Well, I guess studios and big-name directors still manage to struggle through, just like the big authors and publishing houses.) Anyone can make a movie, sure, but getting it seen and heard, getting it into festivals and cinemas, that's the trick. That's where things still get filtered out. But the online presence continues to grow, all those YouTube channels and whatnot. Which proves my point in a way because I can never find what I want on YouTube; instead I get thrown a bunch of suggestions that I don't have any interest in. It is harder to find stuff when there's so much to sift through.

Finally, how people view movies. In the cinema. On IMAX, in 3D. Or at home on the big-screen television, on the computer, on the tiny screens of their phones. The moviegoing experience is changing. The reasons why people go to the movies are changing. You can have a "date night" at home by streaming a Netflix movie. You can avoid the annoying people who sit and talk through the film, or who bring their small child to something that is clearly inappropriate and is way past the kid's bedtime. So what compels people to go out and see a movie at the cinema any more? The public versus private experience—where's the switch for that? What's a "crowd" movie? Certainly, some films lend themselves to spectacle. The big FX movies, the stuff you want to feel immersed in. But as more and more of these blunder at the box office while littler films bring people to the arthouses . . . The tide rolls in, the tide rolls out.

I'm only touching here on some of what Side by Side discusses. The documentary goes through some of the digital cameras, the evolution of how digital was once the cheap, grainy stepchild of "serious" film. But now cameras like the ARRI Alexa are making even old-school DPs say, "Well . . . maybe . . ." Side by Side also does a nice job of illustrating the different technical processes involved in film versus digital, which is why I said it's film school fodder for intro students. But it's also just a very interesting open debate of film and digital and the direction of the industry in general. A worthwhile watch for anyone interested in making movies.


The Writing Life: Projects on My Plate

So here's what I'm doing these days:

I've finished St. Peter at the Gate. Hallelujah. The goal is for it to be published on Amazon by next Tuesday, July 30. A little later than I'd wanted, but better late and all that. There will be another Peter Stoller story next year, but for now I'm Peter'd out.

Now I must turn my attention to doing the rewrite of 20 August. I've had a lot of positive feedback on the script, which has been very encouraging. Time to attend to the little things that aren't working. This is how I work out the kinks; if many people are saying the same or similar things, I know that's where to focus. The feedback for 20 August has been remarkably consistent from various sources regarding where to tweak, so that's next on my docket.

And! I've been asked by other parties to do rewrites of two other scripts, so . . . After 20 August, I will do those in turn.

I'm also attending the Screenwriters World Conference West in L.A. at the end of September.

Oh, and I have an original television pilot to pull out of my, er, ears.

At some point thereafter I will possibly extract myself from screenwriting and go back to some prose. I've had multiple requests for more Sherlock Holmes stories (am mulling a sequel to "The Mystery of the Last Line") and a few for more K-Pro books (and I have some ideas for those, too). I also have ideas for two other books . . . So, yes, plenty to keep me busy for the time being. Though I hope to get out and do some things as well. I live, like many writers, as a kind of hermit a lot of the time, but I do stick my head out of my shell now and again as well. Or I get forced out by people demanding to see me, which comes to the same. (Never, however, trust a writer you see too much of. If you're seeing them, they aren't writing, which makes them less of a writer and more of . . . something else. Unless they write in public? But then that's just showing off.)

I will also make time to read and watch a few movies so I will have things to continue to post here. And I'm going to at least one more concert this year (August 11); you'll be able to read about that here, too. So if you're not looking forward to my movies or stories (though I certainly hope you are), you still have something to anticipate. Keep checking in here and on PepperWords for all the latest. Oh, and check in with Sherl from time to time as well, if only to keep him happy. Or the closest to happy he ever gets anyway.


Concert Review: Goo Goo Dolls & Matchbox Twenty in Concord, CA

Last night I took my 8-year-old son to his first real rock concert.

Due to traffic and the long parking process at the venue, we missed a portion of opener Kate Earl's set, but what I did hear I mostly liked. Or really, I very much liked her earnestness . . . There was something honest about her and her music that I found appealing.

And then the Goo Goo Dolls. Now, I like them, but I really only know their work through their radio hits (and the fact that Johnny Rzeznik and I were once published in the same issue of Rosebud; his was called "Iris" and mine was called "There Was an Old Woman," which is a pretty good example of why I don't still write poetry).

Anyway, I guess the short answer here is that I don't know enough about their music to say more than, yes, I enjoyed hearing and seeing them live. We had good seats, seventh row center, but the iPhone's camera is useless at concerts because of the lighting, so the few pics I can offer are underwhelming. Rzeznik & Co. played mostly songs I recognized, and they also did a really sweet new number called "Come to Me" wherein they put the lyrics up over the stage so people could "learn" the words.

(Stupid camera always makes stuff look farther away than it is, too, but whatever.)

When I asked my son what his verdict was regarding the Goo Goos, he said, "They were pretty good, even though they have a weird name."

But what he really wanted to know was when Matchbox Twenty was going to play. It was well past his bedtime after all.

The MB20 stage was kind of fun; three cube-shaped screens and a lot of neon piping.

This actually made it easier for my son to see what was going on, and the cubes more or less mesmerized him. (You have to understand that Rob Thomas is my son's inspiration for learning to play guitar and wanting to learn to sing, so his attention was divided between watching Rob and then also watching Kyle Cook play—my son was impressed by how fast he had to move his hands.)

As for the concert itself, it was all pretty rote. There was nothing by way of interesting new arrangements of old favorites; everything was played more or less radio and record style. Nor did they really play anything one might call a "deep cut," since it was all their hits and singles. ::shrug:: Give the people what they want, I guess.

Still, it was fun, and my son was so excited they played his favorite song, which is "Bright Lights." He's loved it since he was three years old and used to yell at the concert video, "No, Kyle, don't stand on the piano!" (And no, Kyle did not stand on the piano last night.)

One interesting thing, I suppose, is that they opened with "Parade," which I would have counted more as something to end with . . . Usually one might expect a show to open with something more upbeat, but it was nice anyway.

As concerts go, the night was fun but not spectacular. I suppose that says something about these bands and the people—like me—who listen to them. It all tasted of risk aversion. But then again, that worked in our favor in the parking lot as we exited in slow but mostly orderly fashion.


Books: Sleepless in Hollywood: Tales from the New Abnormal in the Movie Business by Lynda Obst

Okay, first all necessary disclaimers: I worked for Lynda in the time right before she switched from Fox to Paramount. This was in Texas, though; I never saw the L.A. office. Lynda did offer to have me go out there, but at the time I decided to finish my degree at the University of Texas at Austin. Big mistake? Maybe . . . While from her descriptions in Sleepless in Hollywood of life at Paramount it seems I may have dodged the proverbial bullet, I ended up on the opposite coast at Houghton Mifflin (now Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) during its Vivendi years, which I'd say were equally fraught with peril and paranoia.

But that's my story to tell another time. I did enjoy reading Sleepless in Hollywood in part because Lynda is just so . . . Lynda. She's a formidable force despite her petite framing. And that's a good thing. Because in the movie and TV industry what's needed are people willing to say "yes" or "no," people who will make a decision, and Lynda was never afraid to do that. Or if she was, she never showed it.

(I also enjoyed reading about Oly, since I was often the recipient of phone calls from him that began, "Please don't tell Mom, but . . .")

As for Sleepless in Hollywood, let's summarize the chain of events that turned the "Old Abnormal" into the "New Abnormal" (so called because Hollywood has never been normal):
  • People quit buying DVDs because they could find the content online or via streaming services.
  • DVD revenues made up a large portion of the studios' P&Ls—the profit & loss statements that help them determine whether a movie can make any money (and therefore whether or not they should greenlight it).
  • At the same time (or maybe shortly thereafter), the international market began to grow. Now, that market demands BIG movies. China, in particular, will only accept big 3D and IMAX offerings. Studios began to focus on this new revenue stream because they are desperate to make up for the DVD losses.
  • With all their money going to BIG movies, there's nothing left to make little ones. And the studios don't care because, as far as they see it, no one wants little movies anyway.
That's for starters. But wait! There's more!
  • Not all BIG movies are created equal. Stuff like The Avengers makes huge amounts of money, stuff like Green Lantern doesn't. Preawareness becomes the watchword—the studios only want properties they are sure they can sell, stuff fans already know about and will flock to see, stuff that's easy to market and make tie-ins for. Sure, a few core comics fans like Green Lantern, but EVERYBODY loves Spider-Man and Superman and Batman!
  • Marketers are the big hotshots now because if an "intellectual property" (the comics and bestselling books studios look to for content) doesn't already have preawareness, they will [attempt to] fabricate it.
  • And while they're busy making sure they have a product that will sell, the studios also began narrowing their focus on writers and directors with proven track records. What this means is: They don't want your spec script. They don't want your pitch. If you're a newbie writer, director, actor, you'd better be thinking of making your own independent movie because the studios aren't interested. And neither are the agents, since they can't sell you to the studios.
That's the bad news. But there's a slim ray of hope . . .
  • Actors get tired of doing all BIG movies. So they sometimes seek out what Lynda refers to as "tadpoles" (to differentiate from the "tentpole" mentality) in order to stretch themselves . . . Or in hopes of some Oscar recognition. So if you can attach talent to your script or film? There's a sliver of a chance someone might bite. (Still, the industry is no longer as talent driven as it once was. Remember when a big name was all one needed to open a movie? That's less and less true.)
  • And where are the drama writers going? Or even sometimes the BIG movie writers when they're suffering superhero fatigue? (Lynda mentions Jonathan Nolan specifically.) Television. Where characters can be developed and shows are like mini-movies, where originality is welcomed and even encouraged. Lynda herself has begun wading into the television waters with shows like Hot in Cleveland and the forthcoming Helix.
Truthfully, one can hope (as I've mentioned in earlier posts on this site) that the cycle of superhero movies and their BIG movie brethren might finally come to its end. As those big-budget films begin to falter at the [domestic] box office week after week, perhaps the studios will begin to save some of their money, set some of it aside for smaller, more original films, if only for Oscar contention. Lynda points out that many of the indie-style features in the 2012 Oscar race were studio-backed films. Does this presage a shift? Too soon to tell. And of course even if these BIG movies stumble here, overseas they may yet continue in high demand; meanwhile, we'll be served up with cheap horror and only the occasional drama or comedy.

Meanwhile, as technology spreads and gets ever less expensive, everyone is not only a critic but a filmmaker. Digital cameras have become prolific, and just about anyone can make a movie, create a YouTube series, whatever. (I do wish, when getting my Radio-TV-Film degree, I'd done more of the practical studies classes as opposed to cultural studies and writing. As things stand, I would be reliant on quite a bit of aid from others more savvy than I when it comes to filming were I to strike out on turning one of my scripts into something more.)

I'd say Sleepless in Hollywood is good reading for those wanting to understand the current filmmaking model*. There is almost no middle class any more—of society or of movies. BIG studio films or little "tadpole" indies. People with money or people with no health insurance. This is the state of things. Never mind Hollywood being abnormal, it ALL is.

I'll try not to get too discouraged, though. Just got my first little movie produced, after all, and my drama script is getting good feedback. And yeah, I've got some TV ideas in my back pocket just in case . . . Hey, Lynda. Free for lunch?

*Always subject to change without notice.

Blogger Book Fair: Day 1

Today is the first day of the Blogger Book Fair. I have this great interview with ML Weaver up on PepperWords, and then Tammy Theriault has also interviewed me over on her site.

Unfortunately, I have the world's worst web hosting service, and so of course today of all days my site goes down because Network Solutions (more like Network Problems) is having issues with their SQL database. They've told me they "expect" to have it fixed "some time today." Because they're helpful like that.

But please don't give up! Do try to go read the interview with ML Weaver! (I can't even access the Word Press dash to steal the post and repost it here, that's how much NetSol sucks.) I've been getting reports of spotty access, so maybe, just maybe . . . Think of it as roulette? Spin and win?

And BBF is ALL WEEK, people! Great stuff on my site, and I'll be telling you where to find content by yours truly being hosted by other great authors and bloggers. And visit the BBF site to find more great stuff, too!


Movies: Oz the Great and Powerful

Here is Disney's take on the rise of the Wizard who rules Oz: A middling and predictable story filled with candy-colored visuals that moves toward a pre-determined ending.

Oz (James Franco) is nothing more than a circus act until, fleeing the strongman who is angry that Oz poached his girl, he hops into a hot-air balloon and flies straight into a tornado. Instead of the sudden zing! of color, however, Oz's arrival in his eponymous kingdom slowly saturates as he floats over and lands in a place that looks like something from a Dr. Seuss illustration. The cartoony effects call more attention to themselves than they should, and Oz's fakir persona becomes quickly tiresome.

He is greeted upon landing by Theodora (Mila Kunis) who informs him he's arrived in Oz. "That's my name!" Oz cries, and the viewers groan.

Turns out the people of Oz have been waiting for someone named Oz—a wizard, specifically—to arrive and bring peace to the land. Theodora and her sister Evanora (Rachel Weisz) have been keeping the throne safe for said prophesied person, having ousted the "evil" Glinda, daughter of the previous king/wizard (wizard king?) whom they framed for poisoning him. You see where this is going. Since we all know Glinda is, in fact, the good witch . . .

Throughout, Franco as Oz mugs and crinkles up his eyes; I think we're also supposed to believe the ladies find him charming, though there is no chemistry between Franco and any one of the actresses who surround him.

The story continues with Evanora sending Oz to kill Glinda, which he can do by breaking her wand. But of course Glinda wins him to her side and an uninspiring battle ensues wherein Oz uses his bag of tricks to set tinkers, farmers, and Munchkins to work like elves in Santa's workshop so they can defeat the two baddie sisters destined to become the Wicked Witches of East and West. This includes the creation of the great projector that Oz uses so famously at the end of The Wizard of Oz.

I had to wonder whether real-world Oz wasn't in some kind of [strongman-induced] coma and this was all going on in his head, but if that is the case, he never wakes from it. Which makes sense, one supposes, since he has to be there when Dorothy turns up much later. (Disney thought it would be cute, btw, to have Oz's real-world love interest choose to marry John Gale because Oz refuses to commit. Hrm.)

While The Wizard of Oz is a classic, Oz the Great and Powerful hardly merits that status. It is a predictably plotted, nigh cheerless piece of visual confectionary, a kind of illusion Oz himself might attempt to conjure and put over on his audience.

My Gay Protagonist

"Why can't he be gay?" Andrew Garfield notably asked when discussing Spider-Man (or Peter Parker). And it's a valid question (except to the entertainment industry people who believe that making a main character a homosexual will cut their box office potential by a wide margin by alienating a large portion of the potential audience).

Peter Stoller, the protagonist in my St. Peter series, is gay. And yet the stories themselves are not about him being gay; the plots don't revolve around his sexual preference. His being gay is a simple matter of fact, a part of his life. His relationship with Charles is as real a relationship as a fictional spy can possibly have, I guess, by which I mean you could make Charles into Charlotte and still have the same story, the same tensions, etc. But I wouldn't change a thing about Peter because I love him as he is. (Says the loving mother/creator of the character.)

When I turned St. Peter in Chains into a screenplay, the readers were excited. They were so happy to see a gay protagonist in a movie where his being gay was incidental instead of key. I have so many gay friends, and their lives are not all about their being gay any more than mine is about being straight. This is what I wanted to show in Peter's story. That relationships are relationships are relationships regardless of gender. And that being gay is not the only part of a homosexual's life.

Of course, no one would touch the script in order to produce it. Because, hey, gay protagonist.

I'm currently writing the sequel (it's nearly done!), which is titled St. Peter at the Gate. And maybe I'll take that story and marry it to St. Peter in Chains and do up a full-length screenplay . . . That no one will buy because Peter is gay. Or they'll suggest I turn Charles into a girl (or maybe Peter into a girl). And I'll say no. Because while I'm pretty flexible, pretty easy to work with on most accounts, I'm very protective of Peter. He deserves to be who he is without people demanding he change or hide it. Yes, even though he's a fiction. He's my fiction, and I'll fight for him.


Movies: The Perks of Being a Wallflower

I read this book way back when, but by the time I got around to the film version I only had the vaguest recollection of the story itself. The novel left more of an impressionistic memory rather than anything vivid and detailed. Which isn't to say it wasn't good; I recall liking it quite a bit at the time. But I've slept and read and done a lot of other things since then.

In short, I can't now pick apart The Perks of Being a Wallflower (film) in comparison to the book because I don't remember enough of the book to make a comparison.

What I can say is that the movie does a better-than-average job of tapping into the adolescent experience. Even though the protagonist Charlie is more awkward even than the typical teen, the whole of the movie is accessible to anyone who has lived through (or perhaps is currently living through) that terrible transition from childhood to adulthood. And Charlie is an extreme example of how some bloom later than others.

There isn't much plot in The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and in most movies that would be a serious problem. But what this one explores is Charlie's freshman year of high school. He starts as a friendless loner and stumbles into an odd group of comrades that bring new dimensions to his otherwise flat life. Viewers follow Charlie through the ups and downs of negotiating the strange world of teen interaction (and he has one good English teacher, played by Paul Rudd, to help him along). This is interesting enough to keep viewers watching.

On top of this are layers of narrative not fully formed. More like when you buy something and try to pull the price sticker off and it only comes away in tiny, sticky flakes. We discover Charlie did have a best friend, but that this friend committed suicide. That he had a beloved Aunt Helen. That he sometimes has mental episodes and blacks out.

Besides Charlie we get a solid showing of supporting players: the secretly gay guy (and his even more secretly gay jock boyfriend), the rich girl, the stoner, etc. They sound like stereotypes and caricatures but in The Perks of Being a Wallflower they are given proper depth and feeling. These are the people you knew in school, or if you're still in school, these are the people you know, or at least know of.

Truly, in terms of films, this is one of the better ones I've seen in a long time. The first 20 to 30 minutes are rocky, but maybe that just reflects Charlie's instability; once he meets Sam and Patrick, the film pulls together just as Charlie does, and from there on out it is a fine film very much worth its 102 minutes.


Candles: New Finds at Yankee Candle Outlet

So yesterday I found myself on a rare outing to the local outlets, that Parthenon of shopping that I do my best to avoid. (I'm a writer, so I spend a lot of my time avoiding pretty much everything that isn't directly related to my work, though I do like shopping—in very particular stores—and seeing/chatting with people . . . sometimes . . . depending on the people . . .)

Anyway, I was there on an errand, but once that was taken care of I wanted to maybe stay a bit longer so as not to feel like I'd spent more time in the car coming and going than actually being there, if that makes any sense. So I stopped in the Yankee Candle store.

We've established that I really like candles. Little London (what we call my home office) is filled with them. I buy them in large quantities, then go many months without buying any until my supplies have dwindled. As it turned out, as of yesterday I was down to three jar candles that were nearing their ends. Could do with a few more.

Now, as I've said before, I don't buy candles that smell like food. That eliminates approximately half the available candles, scents like vanilla and cookies and pumpkin spice or whatever. But there are still many other choices. I had been mourning the discontinuation of my beloved Blue Hydrangea, but darling Oscar, the Yankee Candle associate, showed me they did still have Hydrangea—and it is blue. (The color only matters a little in my book; it's the scent that counts most.) And this Hydrangea candle is lovely as far as smell goes.

Speaking of color, another candle in very similar color to the Hydrangea is Ocean Blossom, and I like that one very much as well. (And, if we are talking color, I find the Ocean Blossom more appealing than Hydrangea in terms of shades of blue.) But of course Hydrangea has personal meaning for me that transcends other considerations.

Feeling the need to move outside of blue, I found Honey Blossom, which is a lovely dusky lavender color and has a light floral fragrance with a musky touch that seems less likely than some to bring on a headache after extended exposure. I also found the bright green Meadow candle. Now, I had been pretty fond of Riding Mower (even though the name was dumb), and I still prefer the way it smelled to this, but I find Meadow to be stronger and more pleasing than the Green Grass candle.

Then I realized I needed a red candle. Alas, most red candles fall into that food-flavor group: cinnamon, apple, berry . . . I found a True Rose candle that smelled very much like my rose garden, but it was almost too overwhelming a scent. And I found a Tulip candle that was nice but was only being sold as a gift set. After some hunting, however, I happened across Australian Oasis, part of some line known as World Journeys. Whatever. It was red and I liked the smell, which I'll admit does have a slightly fruity overtone but doesn't immediately call to mind something you want to eat.

I thought I was done, but passed a grouping of smaller jar candles on the way to the register (yes, I know they do that on purpose). Despite my original intention to be done with blue, having chosen two blue candles already, I ended up bringing Nightfall and Midnight Cove home. But at least they're dark blue while the other two are light blue. (And truthfully, dark blue is closer to my favorite color than any light shade.)

Yankee does seem to hold a large corner of the candle market. Or is that merely my perception after having lived on the East Coast all those years? I have to say, I see less of them out here in California, nor was I aware of them when I lived down south. It's nice to have a quick stop for candle shopping in any case, and it's worth it to me to check in a couple times a year since they seem to turn over their fragrances pretty regularly. Though I was amazed to see a large portion of the outlet store was already displaying the autumn and Christmas candles . . . I'm still trying to enjoy, even extend, my summer! But when I have to hole up and work in Little London, at least I can make the place smell nice with all these candles. (One at a time, of course. God help us if they were all lit at once!) I can pretend I'm outdoors by faking the smell of grass and flowers . . . Or maybe I should just take the laptop outside for a while.


Movies: The Falling Star of Mega-Movies (or, Make a Wish!)

Is it too much to hope that we've finally hit that wall wherein the moviegoing public is tired of being force fed major blockbusters? After After EarthThe Lone Ranger and Pacific Rim and now the poorly tracking R.I.P.D. . . . If I stretch a little, I can even include Star Trek Into Darkness since it underperformed when held up against the 2009 reboot (taking into account that the 2009 movie did not have 3D and IMAX sales to boost ticket prices).

On the flip side, however, there are hits like Iron Man 3 and Fast and Furious 6. And Man of Steel did well, too, though reviews were not 100% glowing.

Where does this leave us? Well, while I'd like to think it means studios might save a little money and put it aside for smaller films, my big fear is that even the big movies will be narrowed down to only those that are (a) sequels and/or (b) based on a comic book. Studios won't want to risk making anything original; they won't want to develop new product or try anything not already tested.

If movies were meals, as a viewing audience we'd now be subsisting on primarily junk food. (Maybe this explains why we're obese as a nation—mentally as well as physically.) "Smart" and "skinny" movies can't get produced except independently, and that's only when and if anyone can scrape together the money.

There's hope, though, in the small progress. Movies like Mud and Before Midnight and Fruitvale Station that can at least create a bit of buzz, thus cutting through the deafening roar of the action blockbusters. (Okay, yes, Before Midnight is also a sequel too, but there are no spaceships or superheroes at least.) Unfortunately, until these kinds of movies make serious money, the studios will probably continue to mostly ignore them. Or, should the glorious day ever come when the big movies no longer draw so many bodies, maybe the studios will then reconsider their slates and decide smaller, cheaper films are less risky. (For them it's not about the art so much as the business.)

Of course, then we'll have to live on a diet of mostly gore, since horror movies are cheap to make and draw crowds . . .

Well, let's tackle one problem at a time.

What we need now is a wider range of movies. We need a buffet. We need more options so that there's something at the multiplex for every taste.

I hope against hope that as crowds for tentpole films ebb like an outgoing tide, instead of putting all their eggs in one or two baskets, so to speak, studios will diversify. I hope they'll open up to developing new ideas and talents, and that the art of the pitch will make a comeback. I hope this in part for selfish reasons—I am a screenwriter who would like to be able to pitch my scripts and ideas—but also for the greater good. We as an audience need a better film diet. But until we demand it (and we do this by withholding our dollars from the blockbusters as much as by being vocal about wanting other kinds of movies, and by turning out to see those smaller films), the studios will only continue to serve up whatever they sit fit to cook.


Books: Island of Bones by Imogen Robertson

The third of the Crowther & Westerman books is as solid as the previous two, though it seems Robertson dips farther into mysticism with each turn. The second book, Anatomy of Murder, featured a Tarot reader whose intuition led her to help in the case, and in Island of Bones we are coincidentally introduced to the Tarot reader's brother, a cunning man from Crowther's own home territory. (Which means, of course, that the Tarot reader was also from that area, though she was sent away at a young age.)

Not that I mind the metaphysical elements of either book; in some ways I suppose it makes a nice counterpoint to the über rational and logical Crowther and Westerman. It's really all the coincidences that bother me. I mean, some would say there is no such thing as coincidence, and while I'm not sure if that's 100% true, some coincidences do seem to be far too, well, coincidental to be accident or luck. So I'm left to wonder if the readers of these books are supposed to take the coincidences on faith, or are we supposed to believe there is some higher power (like the white woman the cunning man sees) drawing things together.

Well, and in some ways all this distracts from the core story. Which in Island of Bones involves a long-dead body discovered on Crowther's old family estate (well, an island in the river that belongs to the estate—the island, that is, not the river). And so of course Crowther is sent for in the hopes he might shed light of some kind on the dead man. Meanwhile, Crowther's estranged sister and her son also happen to be staying a the old family home, which is now owned by the Briggs family . . . And then more murders, of course, and the need to unravel some of Crowther's past in order to figure it all out.

It is a fun way, perhaps, to learn more about Crowther, though oddly enough the book tips toward spending more time with Harriet Westerman and others of Crowther's old stomping grounds than with him directly. I can say, too, that the culprit was pretty easy to identify because he was the one character the reader did not get any background on, nor did we see anything from his point of view. This omission more or less pointed a big red arrow at him as the bad guy.

But despite that, Robertson has once again used her strong prose to paint a vivid picture, not only of her main characters (who by now we've begun to know pretty well in any case), but of all the supporting cast, and of the countryside where the events in this novel take place. I admire Robertson's writing style and enjoy her characters, and I look forward to reading more of her work.


Movies: Chronicle

[I just want to insert, again, how irritated I am with this Chrome update. If you are reading this site using the latest Chrome browser, you are probably not viewing it in all its glory, as the latest Chrome has stripped this blog of its customizations, links, archives, etc.]

Okay, so Chronicle. It's Stephen King's Tommyknockers filtered through Blair Witch. Three high school students in the Seattle metro area find some underground, unspecified "thing" and develop superpowers. And one of these kids is an abused underdog named Andrew who has taken up videoing his life. Andrew's father is a drunk living off his disability checks and his mother is terminally ill. It doesn't take much brain power to figure out where the story is headed.

But first the viewers are forced to wade through a bunch of other stuff: Andrew and his cousin Matt and their friend Steve learning to use their powers, then showing off at a school talent show, etc. Matt sees the need to put some rules in place, but rising tension in Andrew's home life eventually spurs him to break those rules. I won't go into all the details—it is more or less self-evident from my description above and sufficient to say that the final act is about Andrew deciding he is at the evolutionary apex and therefore should not feel bad about hurting others who are lower on the food chain than he is. And then he and Matt tear up Seattle as they battle out their opposing views.

Besides the plot being predictable, Andrew's dialogue gets clunkier and more cliché as the movie goes on.

In truth, it's a cool idea that needed a bit more plot behind it and better character development overall. I would have been more impressed if Chronicle had surprised me in some way. As it stands, everything had a predetermined destination, and the journey was not all that interesting either. While I can feel bad for Andrew as a bullied, friendless teen with a crap home life, those circumstances in themselves do not make a plot. They merely set the plot up for its inevitable conclusion.


Movies: Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

This movie is ostensibly based on an absurdist novel, but while it had its moments, I wouldn't say the absurdity filtered through all that much. Ewan McGregor plays Dr. Alfred Jones, some kind of government expert on fish, and Emily Blunt plays Harriet, representative of a rich sheikh's interests—in this case, the interest being salmon fishing.

The sheikh has expended a great amount of money having a dam built in his home country so that he may create a body of water in which to fish. Dr. Jones gets dragged in to oversee the fishy side of things by Harriet and various others because, due to political pressures, the British government is determined to create a bit of "good news" about relations between the UK and Middle East. Even if it means stooping to help a rich sheikh get some salmon.

Sure, the plot sounds ridiculous, but in the film it is played almost too straight to be really funny. Viewers must rely on Dr. Jones's repeated protestations and avowals of how ridiculous the idea is to get any sense of absurdity. And he doth protest too much, of course; soon enough he finds himself installed in Yemen and invested in the success of the project.

There's a modest love story between Harriet and Dr. Jones that lacks any real chemistry. And the sheikh spends his time spouting analogies and talking about faith. There is one truly absurd moment in which Dr. Jones lives up to his namesake (i.e., Dr. Indiana Jones) by using a fishing rod as a kind of whip to stop a would-be assassin. And there is a last-ditch terrorism plot point that comes out of nowhere and fails to add any tension to the film.

Still and all, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is a cute film. I didn't hate it. I just didn't love it, either. It somehow failed to live up to the sum of its parts, by which I mean despite solid actors and what could have been a really funny story (they would have needed to play up the buffoonery of the government, I think, but that would have detracted from quality star time on the screen) the movie meanders downstream, ever guided in the direction it is meant to flow, but lazy in execution.


Pictures of London

Too much to go over, and anyway Sherlock has covered the highlights, so here are just a few pictures for the curious.

I'm now entrenched with my writing and have just heard that my short film has proceeded to the editing stage . . .


Movies: Much Ado About Nothing

Starring: Alexis Denisof, Amy Acker
Directed By: Joss Whedon
Adapted By: Joss Whedon from the play by William Shakespeare
Lionsgate, 2012
PG-13; 109 min
5 stars (out of 5)


Okay, so I'm biased. I love Shakespeare to begin with and Joss Whedon besides. It would be my ideal great time to invite a bunch of people over for a weekend and say, "Hey! Let's do some Shakespeare! Whaddya say?" Some of my friends would even go for it. Maybe. If I got them drunk enough first.

If you're wondering, Whedon kept the original Elizabethan English dialogue, and in this adaptation it plays to wonderful effect. The actors manage to make it all very conversational, though I couldn't help wondering how many takes were involved in getting it right.

The black and white works well too. Color might have been too jarring, and the monochrome lends a nostalgic feel even though the setting is contemporary. The one thing that seems weirdly out of place, then, is the insistence on Hero being "a maid," since we see Beatrice and Benedick in a liaison at the start of the film. Why is it okay for Beatrice but not Hero? I suspect the gist is meant to be that in this take Claudio is actually protesting Hero's perceived infidelity rather than her lack of virginity, but since so much of the original play hinges on Hero's maidenly reputation—to the point that she is "ruined" and better off dead if not a virgin—the juxtaposition is a bit discordant. But I think it would have been worse to attempt to change the text to suit a more modern sensibility, so one must simply go with the story.

Not so long ago I watched the David Tennant/Catherine Tate version of this play, which was also made more modern, though (if I'm remembering right) set in the 80s rather than now. I'll say that I enjoyed Act II, scene iii with Tennant and the paint a bit more than Denisof's garden antics, but the music in Whedon's was better. Green apples to red, however, when you consider that Whedon also amputated a certain amount of text to give the movie a more viewer-friendly running time, and that he was working for film while Tennant and Tate were on stage.

I suppose the bottom line is I really enjoyed this movie. The cuts Whedon made work well to make the story accessible to less Shakespeare-savvy audiences (though purists may fuss), and the adaptation as a whole is pretty solid. Now if you'll excuse me, I need to prune some Twelfth Night, stock some wine, and start sending out e-vites . . .

Site Template Issues & Potential Move

A quick apology if you're trying to read this and are only getting the nasty grey-and-white template. For some reason my customizations are not showing up. At least, they aren't in Chrome; when I open this site in Safari, my red template loads properly. (Note: it seems to be an issue with the latest Chrome update, but considering Google runs both Chrome and Blogger, one would think they could make these work together properly?)

Blogger has been having template design issues for almost a year now, which is very frustrating for someone like me who has used Blogger for a long time and so has a lot of content here. However, I am considering moving spooklights over to my PepperWords site in some form or fashion (I also need to migrate PepperWords to a new host, so there's a lot going on, on every side). I hope if/when I do move, you'll follow my reviews to its new home. More to come as things develop.


Movies: Total Recall (2012)

Bladerunner meets Inception in this adaptation of Philip K. Dick's "We Can Remember It For You Wholesale" by way of 1990's Schwarzenegger film of the same name.

The production design of this film is amazing, enough to make me wish I'd seen it on the big screen. But the movie itself had a slow start and, despite the high concept and mind-bending tactics, failed to fully hold my attention.

It has been ages since I read the story, just as long since I saw the Schwarzenegger movie, so I'm useless for comparison. The dialogue here is pretty awful, but movies like this one are all about show rather than tell.

In short, Colin Farrell plays mild-mannered Doug Quaid, an assembly line worker plagued by nightmares. He decides to go to Rekall to have some fun new memories implanted (because maybe then he'll sleep better?). He chooses a spy fantasy and everything goes to hell.

The question here is supposed to be: which is real? Is Quaid just an average guy on a mental adventure, or is he really a spy (named Carl Hauser) whose true memories have been sparked by his visit to Rekall? It's a cool idea, but in this incarnation the story is made heavy and dark and might have benefitted from a little levity. The clunky dialogue and rampant miscasting (Bryan Cranston? And Farrell and Jessica Biel have zero chemistry) detract and distract throughout. Total Recall truly seems to be tapping Bladerunner in terms of tone and set design but is not quite engaging enough to reach that supreme level of sci-fi achievement.

. . . Like a Hole in the Head

Do you realize how difficult it is to need someone?

I was raised, an only child, to be incredibly self-sufficient and independent. By the time I was eight I was coming home to an empty house, preparing my own snack, doing my homework and chores, and often even starting dinner before my parents were home. I did not mind it. I do not have the knack of being lonely and in fact require space and time to myself on a regular basis, so this arrangement suited me.

I had many acquaintances but few I would call friends. This is because friendship would require an intrusion on that time and space I held so dear: people coming over to my house, or my going to their houses, or having to meet somewhere and interact in some way. I was not the teen who giggled over the phone. And it wasn't that I didn't like people, or even that I was "shy" exactly. I could and would converse if and when I had to. But I was disinterested in people my own age and gravitated toward my teachers and adults in general.

Was I awkward? Sometimes, in some ways, same as any adolescent. Eccentric in the fact that I did not work to fit in. I simply didn't care enough to take up my time with that kind of effort. I wore hardly any makeup (something that has saved my skin as I age), didn't much worry about clothes so long as I was comfortable. I was smart and knew it, though I did not flaunt it the way some of the other kids did. Graduated 18th in a class filled with bright minds; the administrators had to take the grades out six decimal places to rank us all. Was accepted to every college and university I applied to but chose the state school because I'd seen the campus once when I was young and had fallen in love with it.

I made my first real friends in college, people almost as strange as I was (am). It was as an undergrad that I was diagnosed with Asperger's, something I'd never heard of, and it made little difference to me to put a label on it. While it perhaps explained a lot, it didn't change who I am. I'd always been myself up to that point and I continue to be me now. I know no other way to be. (Well, I can fake it. But only when I have good reason. Otherwise, why bother?)

But this post is about relationships. When I was in elementary school, it was fashionable to have a crush on someone. I did not. But one of the other girls in my gifted class urged me to at least name someone. I picked a boy at random and endured the good-natured teasing from others that I supposedly "liked" this boy. Truthfully, I didn't feel anything one way or another.

It wasn't until high school that I had my first crush, and it was terrible. What an awful feeling, to suddenly be interested in someone when you've spent your life so uninterested (well, aside from an academic interest in others, I suppose—I was a peer counselor, after all, and found the psychology of my fellow teens quite fascinating). I'm not even sure why I fell for this young man, a year older than me, but it made me so very aware of myself in a way I'd never been before: how I looked, what I said and did. It cracked open something in me, like a dragon having lost a crucial scale so that some of the tender flesh is exposed, just enough to slip in the sword. He didn't like me back, of course, and I made a fool of myself that entire year, was relieved to go back to not caring once he graduated and went away to college.

There were other boys. Boyfriends. People who, unaccountably in my view, wanted to spend time with me and take me out and even kiss me. But none of these others broke through. I was my own person, whole and complete, and felt no need for an addition. Years of being self-sufficient and independent had built me into a fortress.

Later, as an undergrad, I came to like someone so much that I began to entertain the idea there might be someone in the world I could gladly share my time and space with. This was a marvel to me. Here was someone I could picture long evenings at home with. And all the angst of my high school crush was subtracted here because, though I wanted to look nice for this person, I found I could be myself around him quite comfortably. No need to act out. It turned out, however, we were better off as friends (and we still are friends to this day).

So where are we? The high school crush was a wracking desire that lacked depth or bond. The undergrad relationship was really a comfortable friendship that did not leave me exposed and vulnerable.

But do you know what it means to need someone?

It means to find someone who fills the gaps you never even knew you had. Someone who sees you for who you are and loves you as is. Someone who excites and terrifies you at the same time, who makes all your molecules dance and tingle. They make you feels safe while you explore the dangerous emotions they evoke in you, like holding your hands as you wade into water so deep you don't know how far down it goes or whether you'll be able to swim.

You are necessarily vulnerable when you need someone, and this is what I find most difficult. It requires a lowering of my guard. This need is proof that I am not so self-sufficient and independent. That I am not so disconnected, for this tie binds me to at least one other. In order to be accepted, one must first open oneself to potential rejection. That has until now always been a matter of choice for me, but need forces me into the open, out of the safety of the trees and into the clearing.

And I find that I enjoy this strange bondage that is also freedom. Because not only do I need him but he needs me, and I like that—it gives me purpose. I fill his gaps just as he fills mine. He seeks my affection even as I seek his. There is balance here. I want to hold him and guide him just as much as I need him to do these things for me.

It is a complex system.

It is a feeling both terrible and wonderful.

It is freedom from oneself under the protection of another. And freedom to be oneself while protecting another.

It is confusing to someone like me who is used to understanding. I know myself and generally comprehend others, but this is different. It is unexplored territory. Possibly treacherous but also thrilling. And no matter how things fall out, I will come out changed in some way for it. That more than anything is the most difficult to imagine. I have been this way—me—for so long. The idea of being me, only different . . . It seems impossible.

But this is life. No one leaves the way they came in.

So now I strip down and dive in.

Movies: Wreckers

Indie to the point of feeling almost like a student film, Wreckers pushes its minimalist plot forward via very short scenes and a lot of intercutting. We get cobwebs, various POV shots through windows, extreme close-ups, and a stack of hints without ever quite teasing out the truth of the story.


From what I could tell, the film is about David (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Dawn Johnson (not to be confused with Don Johnson and played by Claire Foy), relatively newly wed and out for adventure by piling on the stress factors in short order: they move back to the town David grew up in, begin renovating a house, and are also trying to have a baby. Tidbits of information are dropped at intervals, but we eventually come to understand Dawn wants a baby badly enough to insist on fertility testing by lying to the doctors about how long they've been trying. Meanwhile, David appears to have lied about anything and everything in his past—pathological, it seems—and so one must ask why he agrees to move back to his home town if this will surely expose him? But as they say, sometimes people secretly want to be discovered. And the film itself repeats the phrase, "A dog always returns to its shit."

Wreckers is a jumble. David's little brother Nick (Shaun Evans) turns up and Dawn begins, through Nick and others in the town, to piece together a sordid picture of David's upbringing. At some point it becomes clear the abuse David and Nick were subjected to as kids has rooted itself in David; he has moments of aggression that made me wonder whether he should even be a father, lest he also be abusive. This doesn't seem to occur to Dawn, however, even after she finds out David has lied about being sterile. Or has he? Eventually we are forced to question anything he says, never knowing whether he might be telling another whopper.

By the end of the film Nick has disappeared and Dawn is pregnant from a one-off tryst. David tells her he wants the baby, wants her to be happy, but is that true? While the POV of the film is primarily Dawn's, David appears to be the center of the film: he refuses to report that one of his students is cutting herself, he alternately cares for and verbally abuses his brother, he takes random phone calls, and it is discovered (a) as a teenager he pushed his mother down the stairs violently enough to send her to hospital, and (b) may also as a child have knowingly let his rabbit be eaten by the dog, a scenario that is replayed when the hen house is left open and the dog kills one of the chickens. David blames Nick, Nick blames David—who can one trust?

The sum total is David as a would-be protector whose real goal is to control others (probably in response to his inability to control his own abusive father). After all, with the student, David admits to liking that she trusts him; he doesn't want to betray her. But isn't that just another form of control? And I spent the rest of the film wondering about this relationship with his student, whom we never see—in fact, we don't see David at work at all, which is a lost opportunity, I think. But maybe the student was a lie, too. Or maybe the student is the reason for all the phone calls. Unclear. (Dawn is a teacher, too, btw, and we do see her interacting with her students.)

As a psychological study, Wreckers is interesting. What one chooses to believe, the lies we tell ourselves and others, the ways we construct our identities . . . As a film, however . . . It's not awful but requires a lot of work on the part of the viewer (not necessarily a bad thing). There is no right answer, one supposes, but as the film closes on David, Dawn, and their new baby, one has to wonder what kind of family life that's going to be—a wreck?


Movies: The Incredible Burt Wonderstone

Watched this one on the flight back from London (more on that trip later, maybe, though Sherl will surely have things to say about it if I don't). I'd wanted to see it in the cinema way back when, but then the reviews had been so mixed, and these days I reserve cinema viewings for things that seem to require the spectacle of the big screen and/or that whole we're-in-this-together feeling of a crowd. Otherwise, might as well stay at home and be comfy.

But it's a long flight to and from London. On the way over I re-watched Skyfall, and it was as great as I remembered it being. (I had the option to choke down Parade's End again but somehow resisted. Yes, yes, all right, I'll quit digging at that stupid mini.) By the way, I'd never flown British Airways before—I'm a Virgin girl—but found them very nice.

Okay, but Burt Wonderstone. Well, it was better than I'd expected given all the so-so reviews I'd read back when it was released. It had the requisite funny moments and the typical comedic touch of pathos. I feel there were places where they'd streamlined more than absolutely necessary when it came to character development and plot points, but it wasn't the worst of that I've ever seen. What I mean is, Burt's turn from almost insufferable to sympathetic character is done in shortcut fashion. And then the entire dénouement also comes as a kind of oiled slide. For one, Burt's battle with Gray should-coulda been more pronounced. And then the final big competition also coulda-shoulda been played up a bit more. There was a lack of tension there as the script chose to focus more on the relationships than the events taking place. And that's not a terrible thing, just a strange choice that on the one hand takes this off the traditional comedic route but on the other creates less of a climax.

The movie did hint at the question of magic versus performance art in that it pitted Carell's titular character, an old-school magician from the line (if not of the skill) of Copperfield against Jim Carrey's Gray who acts like more of a David Blaine or Criss Angel. Where is that line drawn? When does it cease to be magic and simply become a show and/or feats of . . . something. Strength? Stupidity? But then maybe it's all magic so long as the audience remains astounded and awed. The subject is up for debate.

No, Burt Wonderstone is not some magical kind of movie. But it is sweet and cute and fine for a really long flight. Or even for a night at home when one doesn't want anything too heavy.


Places: London

Just a quick update to let everyone know I am still alive. In London now, and I could write a whole big post about this city, but I haven't the time. I'm here once or twice a year, and I do love it. And yet today I plan to go to Westminster Abbey for the first time; in all the years I've been coming to London, I've somehow never gone there.

Tomorrow will be my last full day, and I'll be visiting Highgate again and then who knows what. But finishing my visit with dinner at Alain Ducasse—we'll see how it compares to my experience at Petrus a couple nights ago.

Back soon, and then I'll be catching up with things like Under the Dome . . . 'Til then . . .